The locals along with some environmentalists are strongly protesting against the 11 dams built by China on the Upper Mekong within its borders. The dams are specially being constructed pre- planned spots to obstruct the livelihood of the locals in the area by contributing to historic flooding and droughts that have damaged fish spawning areas. The water levels of the Mekong river in the Laos region has significantly dropped could be further disrupted by another 11 dams designed and financed by Chinese companies.

Pianporn (Pai) Deetes, 42, the Regional campaigns and communications Director for Southeast Asia at International Rivers, a nonprofit group based in California said that “We’re not talking about one or two people or one or two problems,” said. “What we are talking about is a large number of people and the regional economy.”

She shared that a fishing village in the district of Chiang Saen was nearly deserted when she recently visited there. A local fisher man Singkham Wantanam, 64, has been fishing in that area since he was 12. According to him, the livelihood of locals is finished in that area. Locals say that it is easier for China to occupy deserted land rather than fighting for it over a long period. Chinese engineers working along the border often tell the locals of Laos that the land along side Mekong is a historic Chinese territory and an expansion of the Xishuangbanna Dai Autonomous Prefecture, Yunnan province.

China says climate change and reduced rainfall are to blame for the Mekong’s water levels, which the Mekong River Commission says are at their lowest in more than 60 years. Beijing also denies that its dams have caused a collapse in fishing stocks downstream or that it fails to inform other Mekong countries about dam activity. In late 2020, it launched an online platform to share hydrological data year-round.

The tensions over development on the Mekong are gaining more attention regionally and globally, drawing comparisons to China’s territorial disputes with multiple Southeast Asian countries in the South China Sea. The dams have also become another flashpoint in China’s relations with the U.S., which in 2020 launched the Mekong-U.S. Partnership to counter Chinese influence in the region.

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