UNITED STATES (OBSERVATORY NEWS) — Rocks scattered in Thai waters on an area of 97 kilometers stand in front of the tightening of Chinese control over the Mekong, one of the most important rivers of Asia, as Beijing proceeds with its projects to make it a strategic water crossing, ignoring the criticism of local residents and environmental experts.
In this section of the river, China intends to challenge fast river currents and excavate the bottom of the waterway to become deep enough to run huge cargo ships and even warships.
These steps are aimed at establishing a river link between China’s Yunnan Province and the disputed waters in the South China Sea.
Beijing is also seeking to tighten its grip on the locally-named Mekong “Mother River”, which makes its way from the Himalayas toward China, Burma, Laos, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam.
Under the slogan “we share the river for a common future,” the giant Asian country denies any expansionist ambitions, stressing that the purpose of the huge work it is undertaking in the river is limited to the sustainable development of this waterway that extends over five thousand kilometers.
However, locals and environmental activists warn against Chinese dredging activities, accusing Beijing of profound changes in the Mekong River by building a hydroelectric dam chain to meet the growing energy needs of Southeast Asia, which is experiencing an expanding population and economic growth.
They point out that these massive constructions have a direct impact on the river, which is a staple food resource for nearly 60 million people in Southeast Asia.
The bottom of the river, which is the most important sanctuary in the world after the Amazon for aquatic biological diversity, which includes 1,300 species of fish, reached alarming low levels, which gave way to the accumulation of red rocks and the expansion of areas of shallow water as plants begin to appear.
This is resulting in an accelerating impoverishment of the nutrient-rich land in the Vietnam Delta and a massive collapse in fish stocks.
As for those involved in dam projects, they assert that hydropower would allow Beijing to reduce its dependence on fossil energy sources, which are considered one of the main causes of global climate warming.
– “The Golden Triangle” –
In the village of Sup Roak (Northeast), tourists take self-portraits in front of a sign that represents the entrance to the “Golden Triangle”, a platform for drug trafficking in Asia on the border between Burma, Laos and Thailand.
Below is the bottom of the Mekong, which is composed of rocks and shallow waters.
On this site, China plans to set up the first river dredging operation to allow sailing ships capable of transporting more than 500 tons of cargo.
“If more ships pass through, it will reflect an increase in the number of visitors and a growth in trade,” says Zhang Jingjin, a Beijing merchant who came with a group of tourists to the site.
As for Bianborn Dates of the International Rivers non-governmental organization, Beijing believes that through these huge projects, Beijing seeks to “turn the Mekong River into a shipping expressway.”
Until now, Beijing’s projects are still in place … After a struggle that lasted nearly two decades, Thai environmental activists succeeded in extracting a decision in March to suspend the 97-kilometer-long sweeping of the Thai side of the Mekong River.
Environmental activist Niwat Roikawy, who plays a key role in the protest movement against Chinese projects, told AFP that these works would cause enormous damage to the environment, food security and survival resources of the population.
“This will threaten the areas where fish live and breed and will complicate the task of finding the necessary sustenance,” he says.
However, this victory is temporary, according to environmental experts who recall that few local opposition movements managed to curb the aspirations of the giant Asian country, which considers the entire Southeast Asian region its backbone.
Beijing has imposed its presence on some parts of the Mekong River in Cambodia and Laos, two allies that have been flooded by Beijing with billions of dollars in investment.
Decline in fish stocks.
“I threw my window twice today and didn’t catch anything,” says fisherman Komy Willay.
At this point, the dredging project was halted, causing relief to residents who note that the water level of the Mekong is falling by one and a half meters to three meters without warning.
They blame the Chinese dam at the source of the river in Jinghong, which is among the eleven dams that Beijing has built on this river in its territory.
“When they close the entrance to the dam, everyone along the river is affected,” says Prasong la-en, the provincial chief.
By controlling the river’s water level, Beijing has great leverage over its neighbors.
However, the Chinese embassy in Bangkok stressed in response to a question that Beijing is not holding water and “attaches great importance” to the needs of the countries in the Mekong estuary.
Hong Kong-based NGO China Water Risk clarifies that China only controls 12% of the Mekong waters, pointing the finger at Thailand, which has also built several dams on the river, especially in Laos.
This small, landlocked country aspires to become the energy reservoir in Southeast Asia and has allowed other countries to finance dozens of hydroelectric structures at the Mekong and its offshore branches.
In China, Thailand and Laos, one result is marked by the sharp decline in freshwater fish stocks, among them the giant Thai catfish that are about to fade, according to a study published in the results of the “Global Chang Biology” magazine in April.
The Mekong Delta in Vietnam is also facing a threat from the phenomenon of salinization. The obstacle to the infiltration of sea water has been removed due to the decrease in the sediment level, which is hampered by dams at the source of the river.
In Huai Lake, a recent rocky block is standing in the way of an impenetrable dam to Beijing’s fulfillment of aspirations in this region.
Former village leader Thongsok Inthavong is watching the opposite bank of the river in Laos, where he sees small plots of land sold one by one to Chinese investors in order to convert them into large banana fields.
Beijing, seeking more ground, is facing more resistance on the Thai side.
“China uses us as a game with its own hands,” Thongsuk says. “This makes me angry, but we will defend our right to the last point of our river.”
This article is written and prepared by our foreign editors writing for OBSERVATORY NEWS from different countries around the world – material edited and published by OBSERVATORY staff in our newsroom.
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