Cambodia Voices Support for China’s Plan to Develop Mekong River

Prime Minister Hun Sen attends the third Mekong-Lancang Cooperation Leaders’ Meeting via video conference on Aug. 24. Photo from Prime Minister Hun Sen's Facebook page.
  • Phoung Vantha
  • August 24, 2020 10:30 AM

Following a high-level multilateral meeting, Prime Minister Hun Sen has expressed his support for China as urgency of cooperation increases.

PHNOM PENH--Cambodia on Aug. 24 voiced support for China's proposal to develop the Mekong-Lancang economy. Leaders from China, Cambodia, Lao PDR, Myanmar, Thailand and Vietnam attended the third Mekong-Lancang Cooperation Leaders’ Meeting via video conference on Aug. 24.

Prime Minister Hun Sen reportedly expressed his “high appreciation for visionary works of his excellency Premier Li Keqiang [Premier of the State Council of the People’s Republic of China], and support his proposals.”

Among those proposals, four key areas emerged in the discussion, including regional development through the Mekong-Lancang Economic Development Belt—an initiative pushed by China to develop transboundary waterways to enhance trade that includes the proposed New International Land-Sea Trade Corridor.

Beyond developing connectivity between the riparian nations, the sub-region leaders discussed greater cooperation on water resource management, the need for sustainable development in terms of agriculture and lastly the establishment of the Mekong-Lancang Public Health Community, which aims to foster better public health development throughout the six nations.

China has pledged $300 million to support small-to-medium-sized projects throughout the six Mekong nations. While it was unclear whether these funds would be disbursed in the form of loans or grants, the $300 million will be made available over the course of the five-year Mekong-Lancang Cooperation plan between 2018 and 2022.

In the last three years, Cambodia has embarked on 55 projects funded by the Mekong-Lancang Foundation worth more than $20 million, but the statement from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs did not clarify if these were loans.

In return for these funds, Cambodia and other Mekong nations have tacitly condoned China’s continued construction of dams along the upper reaches of the Mekong River—currently China has 11 dams along the Mekong, but is preparing to build another eight.

Previous studies have highlighted the impact of China’s damming of the Mekong River and pointed to droughts in numerous riparian nations downstream. China has vehemently denied these reports, but a lack of cooperation has long hindered the transboundary management of the Mekong.

On Aug. 7, the Mekong River Commission released a new situation report urging Mekong nations to address the second consecutive year of low water flows in the Lower Mekong Basin—which covers Lao PDR, Thailand, Vietnam, and Cambodia.

“The low flows have caused Cambodia’s Tonle Sap Lake to experience ‘extremely dry conditions’, with reverse flows at their lowest on record since 1997,” it said.

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