from Asia Unbound

China’s Leaders Finally Listen to Me

April 08, 2010

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Diplomacy and International Institutions

Thailand’s Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva and his counterparts from Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos sit in their chairs during the Mekong River summit in Hua Hin
Photo Courtesy of Reuters/Damir Sagolj

I had suspected as much for some time, but it turns out that the top leadership in Beijing reads my CFR blog posts and closely follows my advice. Earlier this week, I suggested that, to demonstrate it can truly be a good neighbor in mainland Southeast Asia, China had to stop ignoring issues related to the Mekong River and its damming of the upper portions, which is partly responsible for reduced water levels and lower fish catches downstream.

This week, at a summit of the Mekong nations, China agreed to share data on reservoir levels and cooperate more closely with the lower Mekong countries, according to a report by Bloomberg News. Several Southeast Asian officials closely following the talks also suggested that China eventually would join the Mekong River Commission, the body that oversees regional cooperation related to the river. China and Burma are not members, even though they are Mekong River nations.

Of course, as with many issues in China, national-level plans can fall prey to local interests. Although Beijing may commit to greater cooperation on Mekong issues, the shipping, construction, and other industries linked to the river are often controlled by and benefit Yunnan province firms. Local officials, always in a growth-first mentality, will be unlikely to give up any of these river-related money earners, no matter what Beijing says. Maybe Beijing can convince the Kunming provincial government to read my blog posts.