By Tom McGregor, CNTV Commentator
The Lancang-Mekong River Delta region has long experienced a vibrant history. The 4,880-km. long river, called Lancang in China and Mekong elsewhere, runs through six nations – China, Myanmar, Laos, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam. The Lancang originates from China’s Tanggula Mountains and flows downstream to five other countries.
For centuries, the Mekong Delta region had witnessed wars and peace, and now residents on the river’s basin are seeking greater prosperity and development, while Beijing hopes to play a more pivotal role. The 1st Lancang-Mekong leaders meeting is held in Sanya, a coastal city, south China’s Hainan Province on March 23.
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Leaders from Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand and Vietnam are expected to attend along with Chinese Premier Li Keqiang. Governments in the region plan to coordinate on water resources, security and development, particularly in connectivity infrastructure, production capacity, agriculture and poverty alleviation.
Building up water partnerships
Beijing envisions a brighter future via Lancang-Mekong cooperation. China is already a major development partner of ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations).
“The five countries are lagging behind in ASEAN, especially Laos, Cambodia and Myanmar,” Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Liu Zhenmin told Xinhua. “Cooperation will help narrow the development gaps with the ASEAN community and promote prosperity in the sub-region.”
Meanwhile, China’s Belt and Road (B&R) initiative is beginning to accelerate after the launch of its finance mechanism, Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) earlier this year.
The B&R intends to build major infrastructure through shared efforts in Asia, Middle East, Africa and Europe to boost cross-border trade, logistics and energy networks. We can anticipate the Mekong Delta region to benefit as well.
Upgrading shipping channels
Transforming logistics can raise cross-border trade in the B&R sphere. Constructing more railroads, highways and airports to shorten delivery times of goods at lower costs are essential. Shipping cargo on the Mekong River needs a dramatic uplift too.
Last September, the governments of China, Laos, Myanmar and Thailand signed an agreement to upgrade 890-km. Lancang-Mekong international shipping channel. It would allow 500 DWT (deadweight tonnage) cargo ships to pass through a canal that connects Simao Port in Yunnan Province, China with Luang Prabang, Laos.
The shipping channel loses its operational capability during the dry months season and plans are underway to keep it at high water year round.
More railways will be constructed nearby to enhance multi-lateral trade functions. The shipping channel, which opened in 2003, is expected to serve as a significant trade route for the Silk Road Economic Belt.
Alleviating delta droughts
The Mekong River is more than a shipping channel. The delta region offers a tropical climate to grow rice, fruits and vegetables in abundance. Yet, farmers there can be held hostage to dry meteoric conditions.
For the past few months, Vietnam’s Mekong Delta region has endured a severe drought. The devastation has resulted in over 160,000 hectares of paddy rice losses, valued at over $US222.2 million; plus 290,000 hectares of losses of fruit trees.
“Through diplomatic channels, Vietnam has requested China’s Yunnan Province to help alleviate the drought and saline-intrusion in a number of Vietnamese southern provinces,” Vietnam’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman Le Hui Binh told the Nation newspaper.
Beijing has consented and from March 15 to April 10, the Jinghon Dam is increasing the discharge of water that flows into Vietnam from 1,100 cubic millimeters per second to 2,190c/m2.
Forging ahead on cooperation
The Lancang-Mekong basin region offers much potential for a rich bounty in the fields of agriculture, transportation and urbanization. Cooperation among the six nations can jumpstart a new economic corridor that bridges ASEAN with China. Such an endeavor would establish a “Shared River, Shared Future” with win-win benefits.
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