US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has criticized China's dam-building programme on the Mekong River, saying that construction has left the crucial waterway at its lowest level in a decade in Southeast Asian countries downstream, warning of "troubling trends".
The Mekong River Commission has said that river levels in June and July had dropped to “among the lowest on record”.
“We see a spree of upstream dam building which concentrates control over downstream flows,” Pompeo told reporters, August 1, at a summit of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).
“The river has been at its lowest levels in a decade — a problem linked to China’s decision to shut off water upstream. China also has plans to blast and dredge riverbeds. China operates extra-territorial river patrols.”
Pompeo raised concerns that China's efforts would establish a level of Chinese control over the waterway that would usurp authority from the Mekong River Commission (MRC).
A July 30 public forum on the Mekong was disrupted by activists from Cambodia, Thailand and Vietnam who have urged their respective governments to consider the impact of hydropower dams on downstream communities.
Activists demanded wider, more extensive and more inclusive impact assessments and some even called for a suspension of construction of riverine infrastructure projects, warning of forced migration in the face of diminished fish stocks.
The Khmer Times quoted Nhu Doung Hai, stakeholder engagement specialist with the Mekong River Commission’s secretariat, saying that MRC has studied challenges in detail, provided relevant comments and provided information to member countries, adding that it’s up to each government to make a decision on the impact of hydropower dams.”
China already has 7 hydropower dams on the upper Mekong River and it plans to construct an additional 21. Downstream countries are planning to build another 11 dams.