This opinion piece is published on the Bangkok Post:
China is fast failing the good-neighbour test in the current Mekong River crisis. With the vital waterway at its lowest point in a generation, officials in both Beijing and the provinces are not participating in the search for solutions to this problem. It is not a new phenomenon. For close to a decade, there has been widespread criticism of China’s actions along the Mekong. The current emergency, with millions of lives affected, simply adds urgency to the problem.
The trouble is China’s unilateral decision to harness the Mekong with eight hydro-electric dams. Four of them are already in operation. Since the first dams were built, the Mekong’s ebbs and flows have changed. It has not been proved scientifically that the Chinese dams are the cause of this, or one of the causes. What is extremely troubling and frustrating, however, is the lackadaisical and repetitious denials by Chinese officials.
At the very least, China should be an active participant in aggressive studies about the Mekong River. The waterway starts in China, flows through six countries and vastly affects the economy, culture and way of life of each of those nations, far back from the banks of the river itself. Farmers, fishermen and tradesmen literally depend on the river for their lives. But the action of the Mekong has changed since China began constructing its dams. The highs of the river have been higher, causing vast flooding. This year’s low river level has caused great hardship in a year when rainfall has been scarce and El Nino is expected to worsen the annual drought.