Conflict Alerts # 72, 15 April 2020
In the news
The latest report published by the Stimson Centre in the US looks at China's activities along the Mekong river and its implications for Southeast Asia.
The report draws from the study "The Eyes on Earth." It illustrates that China has restricted water from its downstream neighbours and its effects. It explains the cause of the April-November 2019 drought condition in the downstream countries.
The report goes on to establish that region received a normal amount of rain and snowmelt in the upper basin during the monsoon season, but all of the water stayed in the upstream behind the dam. It delves into China's Water Policy and goes on to state that it considers data about water flow and hydropower as a state secret. China treats water as a commodity for consumption rather than a common good.
Issues at large
Mekong River is the lifeline of Southeast Asian countries. The Mekong flows across six nations, from the Tibetan plateau to the South China Sea (both being the core interest of China). This exemplifies the strategic importance of the River for China. It is one of the most productive inland fishery basins.
Any infrastructure development will hamper the geography of the region resulting in climate change. Over 60 million people live in the Mekong basin and depend on the river for their livelihood. The consequence of the dam, built by China has been debated for long, but due to unavailability of data, not much could have been done.
China does not have any formal treaty with the Mekong countries on data sharing. According to the report, the Chinese side of the Mekong river had a good volume of water while the downstream countries were hit by drought. Hence they did not experience any extreme situation as the other.
The report by the Stimson centre uses infographics and graphs to trace the water level and prove that how the dam constructed by China led to the drought situation.
The report adds a valuable contribution to the existing literature on the Mekong River with substantial empirical data. In addition, this region is also part of the Maritime Silk Road as well, so the significance of the region is of immense importance to China beyond the dams that created a drought situation.