Chinese dams under US scrutiny in Mekong rivalry

A tourist walks on the Mekong river bank outside Loei, Thailand, on Jan 10, 2020. (Photo: REUTERS/Soe Zeya Tun)

14 Dec 2020 01:27AM(Updated: 14 Dec 2020 06:46AM) CNA

BANGKOK: A US-funded project using satellites to track and publish water levels at Chinese dams on the Mekong river was launched on Monday (Dec 13), adding to the superpowers’ rivalry in Southeast Asia.

The 4,350km waterway – known as the Lancang in China and flowing south through Myanmar, Laos, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam – has become a focus of competition.Advertisement

Beijing has dismissed US research saying Chinese dams have retained water to the detriment of downstream nations, where 60 million people depend on the river for fishing and farming.

The Mekong Dam Monitor, part-funded by the State Department, uses data from cloud-piercing satellites to track levels of dams in China and other countries.

The information will be open for everyone in near real-time.

A separate indicator of “surface wetness” is to show which parts of the region are wetter or drier than usual: a guide to how much natural flows are being affected by the dams.Advertisement

FILE PHOTO: A view of the Mekong river bordering Thailand and Laos is seen from the Thai side in No
A view of the Mekong river bordering Thailand and Laos is seen from the Thai side in Nong Khai, Thailand on Oct 29, 2019. (Photo: REUTERS/Soe Zeya Tun)

“The monitor provides evidence that China’s 11 mainstream dams are sophisticatedly orchestrated and operated in a way to maximise the production of hydropower for sale to China’s eastern provinces with zero consideration given to downstream impacts,” said Brian Eyler of the Washington-based Stimson Center, a global think tank which operates the virtual water gauges.


China has been critical of past research, including a study by Eyes on Earth – part of the Mekong Dam Monitor project – which said water had been held back in 2019 as other countries suffered severe drought.

“The United States has been unable to provide good evidence throughout,” the state-backed China Renewable Energy Engineering Institute said in a Dec 4 report.

“The positive benefits of upstream Lancang river hydropower on downstream Mekong neighbours are clear and obvious,” it said, adding that water stored in reservoirs during the flood season helped prevent both downstream floods and droughts.

FILE PHOTO: Tourist walks on the Mekong river bank outside Loei
A tourist walks on the Mekong river bank outside Loei, Thailand, on Jan 10, 2020. (Photo: REUTERS/Soe Zeya Tun)

China agreed earlier this year to share water data with the Mekong River Commission (MRC) – an advisory body to Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam that had long sought the information for better planning.

China and the United States have rival bodies working with Mekong countries: the Beijing-based Lancang-Mekong Cooperation and the Mekong-US Partnership.

The two nations are also at odds in the South China Sea, where Washington challenges Beijing’s claim to most of the waterway, a major conduit for trade that is also rich in energy resources. Source: Reuters


1 bình luận về “Chinese dams under US scrutiny in Mekong rivalry

  1. Stimson is launching the Mekong Dam Monitor

    As the Mekong Basin pitches toward ecological crisis, knowledge of the operations of dams on the Mekong mainstream in China and other parts of the Mekong Basin has been kept inside a black box. The Mekong Dam Monitor is public resource which uses remote sensing and satellite imagery to provide near-real time reporting and data downloads across numerous previously unreported indicators in the Mekong Basin.

    This project is a collaborative partnership formed by the Stimson Center’s Southeast Asia Program and Eyes on Earth, Inc. The Mekong Dam Monitor is supported by the Mekong-US Partnership and is hosted on

    December 15, 2020
    9:00-10:30 PM EST (December 16 from 9:00-10:30 AM ICT)
    Zoom Webinar
    Featured Speakers
    David R. Stilwell, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Bureau of East Asia and Pacific Affairs (Keynote Address)

    Dr. Somkiat Prajamwong, Secretary General, Thailand Office of National Water

    Dr. Le Duc Trung, Director General Vietnam National Mekong Commission (Keynote Address) (TBC)

    Mekong government representative (Keynote Address) – TBD

    Brian Eyler, Project co-lead, Stimson

    Alan Basist, Project co-lead, Eyes on Earth

    Ambassador Pham Quang Vinh, Former Vietnam Ambassador to the United States

    Ambassador Pou Sothirak, Executive Director, Cambodian Institute for Cooperation and Peace; Former Cambodia Minister of Mines and Energy

    Niwat Roykaew, Mekong People’s Council

    Dr. Pon Souvannaseng, Assistant Professor for Global Studies, Bentley University

    Moderated by
    Gwen Robinson, Chief Editor, Nikkei Asia Review


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