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2021/89 “Lancang-Mekong Cooperation: Overcoming the Trust Deficit on the Mekong” by Richard Grünwald

In this photo, Vietnam’s Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc addresses leaders from the Mekong countries and China’s Premier Li Keqiang during the 3rd Mekong-Lancang Cooperation Leaders’ Meeting, held online in Hanoi on August 24, 2020. Photo: Quy Le BUI, AFP.

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

  • The Lancang-Mekong Cooperation (LMC) underwent a stress test in April 2020 when the Eyes on Earth (EoE) raised concerns over the connection between Chinese mainstream dams and the alteration of the Mekong’s water flow.
  • Despite the politicisation of its findings in the context of the US-China strategic rivalry, the EoE Study presents a window of opportunity for deepening water cooperation in the Mekong.
  • The launch of the China-led Lancang-Mekong Water Resources Cooperation Information Platform (LMWRC) and the US-led Mekong Dam Monitor (MDM) in late 2020 help enhance transparency on the Mekong’s hydrological data.
  • However, the LMWRC’s failure to explain the prolonged water fluctuation after China’s upstream maintenance in January 2021 has undermined trust in the LMC.
  • To overcome the trust deficit on the Mekong, it is important to depoliticise hydrological science by ensuring accountable dialogue on research findings among relevant stakeholders, compliance with standard research procedures, and collaboration among relevant institutions.

*Richard Grünwald is a Post-Doctoral Researcher at the Institute of International Rivers and Eco-Security, Yunnan University, China. His research interest is in Mekong hydropolitics and transboundary water governance in Southeast Asia.

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INTRODUCTION

The Lancang-Mekong Cooperation (LMC) is one of the most recent cooperation mechanisms established in the Mekong sub-region. Unlike other mechanisms[1] backed by non-riparian states, such as the Mekong-US Partnership (MUP), the Mekong-Ganga Cooperation (MGC), the Mekong-Republic of Korea Cooperation (MROK) or the Mekong-Japan Cooperation (MJC), the LMC was established by all riparian states[2] to deal with multifarious regional challenges. [3]

The genesis of the LMC was the Initiative of Sustainable Development of the Lancang-Mekong Subregion (ISDL) introduced by the Thai government in 2012. This was to facilitate cross-border tourism, water safety, agriculture and fishery.[4] In November 2014, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang at the 17th ASEAN-China Summit, building upon the ISLD model, proposed the LMC as a new mechanism for comprehensive development in the Mekong.[5]

Table 1: The LMC-related Events (Nov 2014 – Aug 2020)

EventOutcome
17th ASEAN-China Summit, Nov. 2014The LMC idea introduced by Li Keqiang
1st LMC Foreign Ministers’ Meeting, Nov. 2015Introducing 3+5 cooperation model (i) political and security issues, (ii) economic and sustainable development, and (iii) cultural and people-to-people exchanges in five priority areas

Committing to cooperation with existing water cooperation mechanisms

Adopting early harvest projects
Jinghong hydropower dam in China released water, Mar. 2016Jinghong hydropower dam released water to alleviate severe droughts upon Vietnam’s request

China committed to share more hydrological dataDebate about geopolitical implications
1st LMC Leaders’ Meeting, Mar. 2016Adopting the Sanya Declaration

Plan to establish 7 thematic joint working groups to coordinate the LMC agenda

LMC Special Fund established
2nd LMC Foreign Ministers’ Meeting, Dec. 2016Reviewing LMC progress

Discussing LMC early harvest projects

Planning to establish LMC cooperation centers

Introducing the Green-Lancang Mekong Initiative
LMC Secretariat and water center established, Mar. 2017Lancang-Mekong Cooperation Secretariat

Lancang-Mekong Water Resources Cooperation Center

Promoting further collaboration and information sharing
Yunnan-based LMC institutions established, Jun. 2017Yunnan Liaison Office of Lancang-Mekong Cooperation

Yunnan Lancang-Mekong Cooperation Center

Yunnan Lancang-Mekong Research Institute

Promoting collaboration and information sharing
LMC environmental center established, Nov. 2017Lancang-Mekong Environmental Cooperation Center

Promoting further collaboration and information sharing
3rd LMC Foreign Ministers’ Meeting, Dec. 2017Reviewing LMC progress

Discussing reforming of the 3+5 cooperation model
2nd LMC Leaders’ Meeting, Jan. 2018Adopting the Phnom Penh Declaration and the Five-Year Plan of Action

Launching the 3+5+X cooperation model

Establishing closer collaboration between BRI and LMCApproving 132 new LMC joint projects
4th LMC Foreign Ministers’ Meeting, Dec. 2018Reviewing LMC progress

Committing to collaboration with other cooperation mechanisms
Jinghong dam planned maintenance, Jul. 2019Public outcry after the announcement of the Jinghong hydropower dam maintenance that could prolong severe droughts
Low water flow changed the colour of the Mekong River, Dec. 2019Public outcry over the river colour’s change to aquamarine hue

Debate about the upstream dam impact
1st Ministerial Meeting on Lancang-Mekong Water Resources Cooperation, Dec. 2019Facilitating transboundary water governance

Reviewing progress in transboundary water resources management

Introducing principles and framework for strengthening existing cooperation
5th LMC Foreign Ministers’ Meeting, Feb. 2020Promoting connection between LMC and BRI

Advancing health security cooperation (COVID-19)

Deepening water cooperation and hydrological data sharing

Closer collaboration with other mechanisms (MRC, GMS and ASEAN)

China’s commitment to release more water to alleviate the negative effects of seasonal droughts
3rd LMC Leader’s Meeting, Aug. 2020Commitment to fund the LMC projects during COVID-19Establishing the LMC

Special Fund for Public Health

Strengthening cooperation with other mechanisms (ASEAN, ACMECS and MRC)

Deepening collaboration with BRI, particularly the New International Land-Sea Trade Corridor

China’s commitment to share year-round hydrological data

Source: Lancang-Mekong Cooperation and Conflict Database (LMCCD), compiled by author

The 1st LMC Foreign Minister’s Meeting in November 2015 unveiled the 3+5 cooperation model[6] which involved not only economic cooperation but also environmental protection and transboundary water governance. The LMC activities were under the radar until March 2016 when the Chinese government released water from the Jinghong hydropower dam to mitigate the prolonged drought.[7] Some observers interpreted the emergency water release as a token of China’s goodwill.[8] Others saw it as China’s geopolitical move to exert greater influence over downstream countries and a symbolic gesture to gain diplomatic mileage before the 1st LMC Leader’s Meeting in March 2016.[9]

The LMC has since been institutionalised with the establishment of various LMC centres to coordinate its expanding agenda. It has committed to pursue closer cooperation with other Mekong-related mechanisms, particularly the Mekong River Commission (MRC), the Greater Mekong Sub-region (GMS) and the Ayeyawady-Chao Phraya-Mekong Economic Cooperation Strategy (ACMECS). The LMC has undertaken various projects on urban water management,[10] health security[11] and food safety standards[12] in the Mekong countries. However, these were largely overshadowed by other infrastructure projects such as the China-Laos highway, the Boten-Vientiane railway, the Kyaukphyu deep sea port in Myanmar and the Navigation Channel Improvement Project, among others. Either way, LMC projects heavily rely on China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) funds. While some observers consider the synergy between the LMC and the BRI as part of China’s strategy to reconfigure the balance of power in the Mekong sub-region,[13] this connection allows the LMC to push forward its all-round development agenda with considerable financial support.[14]

A big stress test for the LMC came after severe droughts in June 2019[15] and rising concerns about the impact of upstream hydropower dams on the water flows.[16] At that time, many experts suspected that Chinese and Laotian dam projects could be the main cause for the deteriorating Mekong flows.[17] In response, the Chinese government committed to speed up a joint research collaboration with the MRC[18] and share year-round hydrological data through planned the Lancang-Mekong Water Resources Cooperation Information Sharing Platform (LMWRC).[19] However, the LMC effort in transboundary water governance was negatively affected by the COVID-19 outbreak in early 2020. Since then, the LMC has re-focused its priority on securing funding for its ongoing and planned projects and meeting the growing demand for medical supplies in the Mekong countries. [20]

EYES ON EARTH STUDY

The attitude towards the LMC changed sharply after April 2020 when the Eyes on Earth (EoE) Study raised concerns about the connection between Chinese upstream dams and negative water flow changes.[21] While the correlation between mainstream water projects and severe droughts in recent years has been extensively discussed,[22] researchers have not found robust evidence for supporting such claims. Compared to other mainstream hydrological studies[23], the EoE Study attracted significant media attention and different reactions over its new scientific evidence.

The EoE Study estimated the actual water flow based on satellite images and concluded that there is a connection between upstream dams and the alteration of natural river flow.[24] According to the authors, the current predictive model has 89 per cent accuracy and provides a relatively easy guide for measuring hydrological changes within the basin. To increase research credibility, the EoE Study compared its predictive models with the MRC hydrological data and demonstrated the negative effects of the upstream dams on the “missing” water at Chiang Saen gauge where the water flow changes are most visible.

Although the EoE Study presents an important step in advancing regional discussion on this issue, many scientists are concerned about the misinterpretation of its findings.[25] Furthermore, the study lacks a rigorous peer-review process, shows a limited literature review of contemporary sources and inadequate consideration of the cumulative effects from the climate change and left-bank tributaries.

In addition, since the EoE Study was funded by the US-led Lower Mekong Initiative (LMI), the objectivity of the research is in question.[26] Building upon the EoE Study, the US-based Stimson Center published a commentary on its website, criticising China’s “lack of transparency” and its water policy choices that “consider water a sovereign resource rather than a shared resource”.[27] According to the review by the Australia-Mekong Partnership for Environmental Resources and Energy Systems (AMPERES), such strong conclusions regarding China’s role and motivation in the 2019 flood were not substantiated, given “the limitations in the background research on the context, simplicity of the method, and lack of comparison with existing studies”.[28] Furthermore, the EoE Study findings were also used in American officials’ speeches to increase political pressure on the Chinese government.[29]

On the other hand, despite this escalation of political rhetoric and the marginalisation of scientific responses,[30] the EoE Study provides a window of opportunity to enhance existing water cooperation. Such potentially positive outcomes can be observed in the following events. First, at the 3rd LMC Leader’s Meeting in August 2020, China promised to fulfill its commitments on sharing year-round hydrological data and establishing the LMWRC[31] as well as addressing the prevalent concerns related to COVID-19, regional economic recovery and water resources management. The LMWRC was launched in November 2020; this helped promote the transparency of hydrological data.

Second, the launch of the MUP in September 2020 signals the US government’s greater focus on supporting sustainable river basin development.[32] The MUP draws on the success of the LMI and continues addressing non-traditional security issues that had received positive feedback from downstream countries since 2009. The MUP, however, also demonstrates Washington’s redefined agenda towards Southeast Asia as part of its overall strategic rivalry with China.[33] Other related geopolitical moves include boosting US military and defence budget on regional security, strengthening the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (Quad),[34] and increasing the military assistance component in US foreign aid budget.[35] The heightened attention from Washington creates both pressure and incentive for the LMC to improve its water cooperation agenda.

Third, the MUP in collaboration with the Stimson Center and other stakeholders launched the Mekong Dam Monitor (MDM) in December 2020 to improve the transparency of hydrological data and operationalise the EoE Study findings.[36] The MDM visualises water flow changes in real-time and provides a detailed methodology and other useful statistics related to the Mekong sub-region.[37] The MDM also raises public awareness about transboundary water management and complements the existing MRC mechanism for hydrological data sharing.

The MDM spotted several water fluctuations in early 2021.[38] While some commentators interpret this sudden water change as another Chinese attempt of “manipulating the water flow”[39] and a proof of LMWRC incompetence,[40] it turned out that it was the regular hydropower maintenance that had been previously announced on the LMWRC website.[41] In response, China’s Ministry of Water Resources notified the MRC about the scheduled water fluctuation and committed to provide more information with downstream countries if needed.[42] On the other hand, the LMWRC did not mention how much water would be restored after the maintenance.[43]

Since end-January 2021, the LMWRC experienced some communication shortcomings and failed to explain the prolonged water fluctuation that continued until early February 2021.[44] After February 2021, the water levels slowly rose again. Apart from concerns about the abnormally low water levels, the MRC indicated that the discrepancy in outflow estimates by the MRC and China’s Ministry of Water Resources was probably due to different calculation methods.[45] China has committed to share water levels data rather than operational and water discharge data.[46] The LMWRC should consider building more hydrological stations in the upper Lancang River, activate the Lancang-Mekong Multi-stakeholders Platform (LMMP)[47] and revise the notification guidelines at their websites to advance water cooperation.

The MUP continues to be active in alerting dramatic water flow changes,[48] facilitating multi-stakeholder meetings[49] and encouraging journalists to monitor the situation.[50] Meanwhile, the LMWRC continues to advance cooperation with the MRC, including at the LMWRC-MRC online meeting in March 2021[51] and during the 3rd International Forum on Water Security and Sustainability in late April 2021.[52] However, it is unclear what substantive outcomes can be achieved at the next LMC Foreign Ministers Meeting, and how the LMC will regain trust in the LMWRC. At the press reference in March 2021, China’s Foreign Ministry Spokesperson, Hua Chunying, only emphasised the LMC’s economic benefits and did not reflect the concerns about the LMWRC.[53] Similarly, during a tour of some Mekong countries by Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi in early 2021, the agenda was predominantly focused on COVID-19 cooperation and economic relations through the LMC rather than on water cooperation.[54]

As for the MDM, it has gained traction for sharing Mekong water-related information, especially its hydrological developments and trends, on social media on a weekly basis. However, a number of MDM posts are of a speculative nature due to the lack of adequate data, for example on the connection between the Buyuan cascade and the potential impact on fishery[55] or the scope of negative impact of hydropeaking on migratory bird nests and their eggs.[56] Other challenges for the MDM include a bias in the datasets[57] and the issue of whether and how it should collaborate with the LMWRC.

Table 2: EoE Study-related Events (April 2020-December 2020)[58]

EventOutcome
Eyes on Earth Study, Apr 2020Concerned about Mekong hydrological changes

Emphasised the impact of Chinese water reservoirs
Stimson Center commentary, Apr. 2020Concerned about Chinese mainstream dams

Commented on China’s water policy choices and motivation

Emphasised the need for further hydrological data
MRC commentary, Apr. 2020Provided feedback on the EoE Study’s limitations

Recommended more joint research and data sharing
AMPERES commentary, Apr. 2020Provided feedback on the EoE Study’s limitations

Encouraged LMC countries to collaborate
Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Shuang Geng’s press statement, Apr. 2020Quoted the New York Times instead of the EoE Study

Said the EoE Study is a “groundless report”

Highlighted that China suffered from droughts too
US Secretary of State Michael Pompeo’s statement, Apr. 2020Raised concerns about the EoE Study findings

Demanded further information about upstream dams
US Ambassador to Thailand Michael DeSombre’s statement, Apr. 2020Highlighted US achievements in the Mekong basin

Asked “why more water did not flow from China”
Aalto University’s commentary, Apr. 2020Provided recommendations to address existing shortcomings of the EoE Study
Michael DeSombre’s statement, May 2020Noted that “China’s actions are contributing to droughts”
US Assistant Secretary of State David R. Stilwell’s statement, Jun. 2020Said that Beijing used dams to hoard the water and that Chinese dams contributed to droughts
Tsinghua University Study, Jul. 2020Noted that the Chinese dams did not cause the droughts

Highlighted positive effects of Chinese dams
Dialogue Forum for the Mekong, Jul. 2020Discussed the geopolitical impact of the EoE Study

Discussed the hydrological changes since 2014
MRC commentary, Aug. 2020Noted that the Chinese dams did not cause the droughts

Recommended to share more hydrological data
Li Keqiang’s statement, Aug. 2020Committed to provide year-round hydrological data and advance existing water cooperation
David R. Stilwell’s statements, Sep. 2020Said that “China manipulates the water flow for its profit” and asked for better transparency of hydrological data

Emphasized that “transparency is more important than the accuracy of the EoE Study”
Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Lijian Zhao’s statement, Sep. 2020Asked to “stop politicizing water resources” and “stick to the facts” and “quote the EoE Study findings with caution”
MUP launched, Sep. 2020Committed to enhance good water governance and autonomy of Mekong states
Michael Pompeo’s statements, Sep. 2020Reaffirmed to “halt China’s aggressive and destabilizing policies in the Mekong sub-region”

Committed to ensure autonomy and economic independence of Mekong partners

Emphasised that China threatened the Mekong’s natural environment and economic autonomy
Michael Pompeo’s statement, Oct. 2020Concerned about China’s lack of transparency and stressed that China’s “malign and destabilizing activities in the Mekong, including manipulation of Mekong River water flow” negatively affected downstream countries
David R. Stilwell’s statement, Oct. 2020Noted China’s unilateral manipulation of the water flow and asked China to share hydrological data with the MRC
Stimson Center commentary, Oct. 2020Encouraged the US government to “find avenues for collaboration with China if possible”
Hydrological data sharing, Oct. 2020China agreed to share year-round hydrological data with the MRC
LMWRC launched, Nov. 2020Shared more hydrological data, improved collaboration with the MRC, and provided notification about upstream water plans
Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Luo Zhaohui’s statement, Nov. 2020Committed to deepen water cooperation and to eliminate “external interruptions” that “sabotage sub-regional cooperation”

Stressed that “the Mekong sub-region is an arena of common development, rather than a battlefield of geopolitics”
Hua Chunying’s statement, Dec. 2020Highlighted the LMWRC achievementsCommitted to promote water cooperation
MDM launched, Dec. 2020Provided complementary hydrological monitoring

Paid special attention to upstream dams
Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Wenbin Wang’s statement, Dec. 2020Welcomed the MDM as a constructive action

Committed to fight against “malicious moves” of the external interference that can “drive a wedge” between Mekong countries

Emphasised the need to advance LMC cooperation on the basis where “facts speak louder than words”

Source: Lancang-Mekong Cooperation and Conflict Database (LMCCD), compiled by author.

THE LMC’S FUTURE PATHWAYS

There are several pathways to promote the viability of the LMC.

First, instead of putting all responsibility for sustainable river development on the Chinese government and relying on BRI financing, other Mekong countries should be more active in proposing LMC reforms and diversifying financial sources for LMC activities. However, the ongoing crisis in Myanmar caused by the military coup in February 2021 could be a complicating factor since Myanmar is the co-chair of the LMC this year and also the current country-coordinator of ASEAN-China dialogue relations.[59]

Second, the LMWRC and the MDM should find some common ground towards greater synergy. So far, both mechanisms work in silos. Except for their mutual cooperation with the MRC, there is limited hydrological data sharing and dialogue between China and the US. The future pathways for the Mekong sub-region are being discussed through various “isolated” platforms led by different stakeholders.[60] Without constructive and meaningful engagement, especially with Chinese stakeholders, solutions to effectively promote Mekong water cooperation remain elusive.

Third, the persisting misinterpretation of hydrological studies that undermine trust in scientific institutions must be addressed. This problem includes over-simplification of research findings[61]and double-standards towards other hydrological studies.[62] Without systematic de-politicisation of science, substantial scientific investigations within the official research channels, and consensus on complying with the basic research standards, there is a high risk that solutions will remain in the realm of hopes and false expectations.

Another related issue is moving the scientific discussion into public media space, which can generate mixed impact. Although public media helps raise public awareness of the problems on the ground, it is simultaneously an easy target for simplification and misinterpretation of the hydrological data. Unlike the standard peer-review process in high-impact research journals or structured dialogue in research conferences that try to delimit the over-statements, scientists in public media space may develop their research arguments and tailor the content to justify their prior beliefs. Therefore, instead of seeking “research shortcuts” and “media sensations”, it may be more reasonable to establish wider consensus among the inter-disciplinary scientific community and verify research findings through peer-review. Going forward, future research should be consulted with the MRC and go through standard research procedures to prevent “information trench wars”. Other remedies include fact-checking mechanisms and closer collaboration between relevant institutions such as the LMWRC, MRC and MDM. It should be noted that any joint research in this regard will be time-consuming and still may not result in conclusive findings.

CONCLUSION

To regain trust in the LMC and depoliticise the water issues, the multiple stakeholders should follow standard research procedures and observe the objectivity of science. Hence, further joint investigations and coordinated action among relevant institutions are necessary to overcome the looming water crisis and build mutual trust among Mekong countries.

The LMC remains a promising intergovernmental platform to promote development and water management in the Mekong region. Thanks to its synergy with the BRI, there are available resources for the LMC to promote all-round cooperation in the Mekong countries. However, the LMC has not yet developed coherent normative frameworks for transboundary water governance.[63] On the other hand, if China delivers on its commitment to secure funding for LMC projects during the COVID-19 pandemic, deepen regional water cooperation particularly with the MRC and promote mutual understanding among LMC members through collective leadership,[64] the LMC will stand a good chance of overcoming current scepticism about its credibility.

In the long term, the LMC requires structural changes, especially in advancing transparency over its projects[65] and addressing the current water problems.[66] While the LMC may possess sufficient capacity to address these challenges, it is not easy to change the existing mindset, especially the limited willingness on the part of some member countries to take more responsibility in transboundary water management. That being said, the political pressure to change this mindset must come from the Mekong countries themselves rather than from foreign actors.

ISEAS Perspective 2021/89, 1 July 2021


ENDNOTES

[1] Since the 1990s, most cooperation mechanisms were designated to improve cultural exchanges and economic ties among Asian countries. However, there is a distinction of priority and focus between Southeast Asian maritime and mainland countries. Whereas the maritime countries emphasise the importance of the South China Sea, security of the Malacca Strait and other Asia-Pacific issues, the Mekong countries are more focused on joint basin development, cross-border trade and trans-Asian connectivity to reduce poverty. For more information, see Thomas Parks, Larry Maramis, Apichai Sunchindah and Weranuch Wongwatanakul, “ASEAN as the architect for regional development cooperation”, The Asia Foundation, 2018, https://asiafoundation.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/09/ASEAN-as-the-Architect-for-Regional-Development-Cooperation.pdf

[2] Richard Grünwald, “Lancang-Mekong Cooperation: Present and Future of the Mekong River Basin”, Politické vedy, 2020, Vol. 23, No. 2, p. 69-97.

[3] Thomas Parks, Larry Maramis, Apichai Sunchindah and Weranuch Wongwatanakul, op. cit.

[4] Pou Sovachana and Bradley J. Murg, “The Lancang-Mekong Cooperation Mechanism: Confronting New realities in Cambodia and the Greater Mekong Sub-region”, Regional Security Outlook, ed. John Huisken, 48-51 (Canberra: CSCAP Press, 2019).

[5] “Remarks by H.E. Li Keqiang Premier of the State Council of the People’s Republic of China Summit”, Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the People’s Republic of China, 13 November 2014, https://www.fmprc.gov.cn/mfa_eng/wjdt_665385/zyjh_665391/t1212266.shtml

[6] “Joint Press Communiqué of the First Lancang-Mekong Cooperation Foreign Ministers’ Meeting”, Lancang-Mekong Cooperation, 12 November 2015, http://www.lmcchina.org/2015-11/12/content_41449862.htm

[7] “China releasing water to Mekong River countries”, China.org, 15 March 2016, http://www.china.org.cn/environment/2016-03/15/content_38033620.htm

[8] Xing Wei, “Lancang-Mekong River Cooperation and Trans-Boundary Water Governance. A Chinese Perspective”, China Quarterly of International Strategic Studies, 2017, Vol. 3, No.3, p. 377-393.

[9] Richard Grünwald, op. cit.

[10] “Water quality assessment of Mekong River in Shan State to begin soon”, The Global New Light of Myanmar, 21 September 2019, https://www.globalnewlightofmyanmar.com/water-quality-assessment-of-mekong-river-in-shan-state-to-begin-soon/; Ekaphone Phouthonesy, “Laos, China ink US$4.5. million deal on cooperation projects”, Vientiane Times, 18 February 2019, https://www.vientianetimes.org.la/freeContent/FreeConten_Laos_China_ink_41.php

[11] ““Mekong Bright Action” brings brightness to poor cataract patients in Laos”, China Development Brief, 20 October 2016, https://chinadevelopmentbrief.cn/reports/mekong-bright-action-brings-brightness-to-poor-cataract-patients-in-laos/

[12] “China and Thailand Sign the Memorandum of Understanding on the Cooperation on Project of the Lancang-Mekong Cooperation Special Fund”, Embassy of the People’s Republic of China in the Kingdom of Thailand,  7 December 2019, http://www.chinaembassy.or.th/eng/dszl/t1722853.htm

[13] Sebastian Biba, “China’s ‘old’ and ‘new’ Mekong River politics: the Lancang-Mekong Cooperation from a comparative benefit-sharing perspective”, Water International, 2018, Vol 43, Iss. 5, p. 622-641.

[14] Richard Grünwald, op. cit.

[15] “Water flow from China’s Jinghong station to fluctuate, but no major impact is expected”, Mekong River Commission, 3 July 2019, https://www.mrcmekong.org/news-and-events/news/water-flow-from-chinas-jinghong-station-to-fluctuate-but-no-major-impact-is-expected

[16] “Chinese Embassy Spokesperson’s Remarks on Mekong-related Media Report Targeting China”, Embassy of the People’ Republic of China in the Kingdom of Thailand, 5 July 2019, http://www.chinaembassy.or.th/eng/sgxw/t1678896.htm

[17] Richard Grünwald, Yan Feng, Wenling Wang, “Modified Transboundary Water Interaction Nexus (TWINS): Xayaburi Dam Case Study”, Water Vol. 12, Iss. 3, p. 710-727.

[18] “MRC and China renew pact on water data provision and other cooperation initiatives”, Mekong River Commission, 19 July 2019, https://www.mrcmekong.org/news-and-events/news/mrc-and-china-renew-pact-on-water-data-provision-and-other-cooperation-initiatives

[19] Mekong River Commission, “MRC Secretariat, LMC Water Center ink first MOU for better upper-lower Mekong management”, 18 December 2019, https://www.mrcmekong.org/news-and-events/news/mrc-secretariat-lmc-water-center-ink-first-mou-for-better-upper-lower-mekong-management

[20] “Joint Press Communiqué of the Fifth Mekong-Lancang Cooperation Foreign Ministers’ Meeting”, Lancang-Mekong Cooperation, 20 February 2020, http://www.lmcwater.org.cn/cooperative_achievements/important_documents/files/202008/t20200825_162714.html

[21] Brian Eyler and Courtney Weatherby, “New Evidence: How China Turned off the Tap on the Mekong River”, Stimson Center, 13 April 2020, https://www.stimson.org/2020/new-evidence-how-china-turned-off-the-mekong-tap/#4-the-2019-drought

[22] Sebastian Biba, “China’s Continuous Dam-building on the Mekong River”, Journal of Contemporary Asia, 2012, Vol. 42, Iss. 4, p. 603-628; Vu Nguyen Hoa Hong, “Water Security in the Mekong River Basin Challenges, Causes and Solutions”, ASRJETS, 2020, Vol. 64, No. 1., p. 187-199.

[23] “Strategic Environment Assessment of Hydropower on the Mekong Mainstream”, ICEM, 2010. http://icem.com.au/documents/envassessment/mrc_sea_hp/SEA_Final_Report_Oct_2010.pdf; The Council Study. The Study on the Sustainable Management and Development of the Mekong River Basin including Impacts of Mainstream Hydropower Projects (Vientiane: Mekong River Commission, 2017).

[24] Alan Basist and Claude Williams, Monitoring the Quantity of Water Flowing Through the Upper Mekong Basin Under Natural (Unimpeded) Conditions (Bangkok: Sustainable Infrastructure partnership, 2020).

[25] Tarek Ketelsen, John Sawdon and Timo Räsärenen, “Monitoring the Quantity of water flowing through the Upper Mekong Basin under natural (unimpeded) conditions”, AMPERES, 19 April 2020, https://www.amperes.com.au/library/2020/4/amperes-commentary-eyes-on-earth; Understanding the Mekong River’s hydrological conditions: A brief commentary note on the “Monitoring the Quantity of Water Flowing Through the Upper Mekong Basin Under Natural (Unimpeded) Conditions” study by Alan Basist and Claude Williams (2020) (Vientiane: MRC Secretariat, 2020); Mark Kallio and Amy Fallon, “CRITICAL NATURE: Are China’s dams on the Mekong causing downstream drought? The importance of scientific debate”, CSDS, 28 April 2020, https://www.csds-chula.org/publications/2020/4/28/critical-nature-are-chinas-dams-on-the-mekong-causing-downstream-drought-the-importance-of-scientific-debate

[26] There are multiple connections between the EoE Study authors and US government-funded projects and US-driven initiatives seeking to justify concerns about Chinese mainstream dams before April 2020. See for example: “Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Geng Shuang’s Regular Press Conference on August 3, 2018”, Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the People’s Republic of China, 3 August 2018, https://www.fmprc.gov.cn/mfa_eng/xwfw_665399/s2510_665401/2511_665403/t1583054.shtml; “Meeting Report: Improving Data for Water Resources Management. Mekong Water Data Expert Group”, IBM Center for Cognitive Government, 4 April 2019, https://mekonguspartnership.org/wp-content/files/Report%20-%20Mekong%20Water%20Data%20Experts%20Meeting%20%20(Washington%20DC%202019).pdf; “Lower Mekong Iniative Implementers Workshop 2019”, Sustainable Infrastructure Partnership, 19 December 2019, https://mekongsip.org/download/2019-lmi-implementers-workshop_report

[27] For further details see Brian Eyler and Courtney Weatherby, “New Evidence: How China Turned off the Tap on the Mekong River”, Stimson Center, 13 April 2020, https://www.stimson.org/2020/new-evidence-how-china-turned-off-the-mekong-tap/#4-the-2019-drought

[28] Tarek Ketelsen, John Sawdon and Timo Räsärenen, op.cit.

[29] See “The United States and ASEAN Are Partnering to Defeat COVID-19, Build Long-Term Resilience, and Support Economic Recovery”. U.S. Mission to ASEAN, 22 April 2020, https://asean.usmission.gov/the-united-states-and-asean-are-partnering-to-defeat-covid-19-build-long-term-resilience-and-support-economic-recovery

[30] See for example “Special Briefing with David R. Stilwell, Assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs”, U.S. Department of State, 15 September, 2020, https://2017-2021.state.gov/special-briefing-with-david-r-stilwell-assistant-secretary-of-state-for-the-bureau-of-east-asian-and-pacific-affairs/index.html; “Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Wang Wenbin’s Regular Press Conference on December 14, 2020”, Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the People’s Republic of China, 14 December 2020 https://www.fmprc.gov.cn/mfa_eng/wjbxw/t1837496.shtml; “The Mekong River, Mekong Sovereignty, and the Future of Southeast Asia”, U.S. Embassy & Consultate in Thailand, 15 October 2020, https://th.usembassy.gov/remarks-david-stilwell-assistant-secretary-at-indo-pacific-conference-on-strengthening-transboundary-river-governance

[31] Full text of Vientiane Declaration of the Third Mekong-Lancang Cooperation (MLC) Leaders’ Meeting, Xinhua, 24 August 2020, http://www.xinhuanet.com/english/2020-08/24/c_139314536.htm

[32] Mekong-U.S. Partnership website at https://mekonguspartnership.org/about

[33] Sebastian Strangio, “How Meaningful is the New US-Mekong Partnership?”, The Diplomat, 14 September 2020, https://thediplomat.com/2020/09/how-meaningful-is-the-new-us-mekong-partnership/

[34] “Secretary Pompeo to Participate in Virtual U.S.-ASEAN, EAS, ARF, Mekong-U.S. Partnership Foreign Ministers Meeting September 9-11”, U.S. Mission to ASEAN, 2 September 2020, https://asean.usmission.gov/secretary-pompeo-to-participate-in-virtual-u-s-asean-eas-arf-mekong-u-s-partnership-foreign-ministers-meetings-september-9-11

[35] See USAID Foreign Aid Explorer before and after 2019, “U.S. Foreign Aid Explorer”, USAID, accessed on 25 February 2021, https://explorer.usaid.gov/cd 

[36] “Launch of the Mekong Dam Monitor”, U.S. Embassy & Consulate in China, 16 December 2020, https://china.usembassy-china.org.cn/launch-of-the-mekong-dam-monitor

[37] Alan Basist, Allison Carr, Brian Eyler, Courtney Weatherby and Claude Williams, op. cit. [38] Alan Basist, Allison Carr, Brian Eyler, Courtney Weatherby and Claude Williams, op. cit.

[39] Panu Wongcha-um and Kay Johnson, “China notifies Mekong River neighbours it is holding back waters”. Reuters, 6 January 2021, https://www.reuters.com/article/us-mekong-river-idUSKBN29B17C

[40] Brian Eyler. “Mekong Mainstream at Chiang Saen, Thailand (Golden Triangle) drops >1 meter in 48 hours as Jinghong Dam upstream fills”. Planet, 5 January 2021, https://www.planet.com/stories/mekong-mainstream-at-chiang-saen-thailand-golden-t-XlhhVOaGg

[41] “Notification of Hydrological Information on Lancang River(December 27, 2019”, Lancang-Mekong Water Resources Cooperation Information Sharing Platform, 27 December 2019, www.lmcwater.org.cn/water_information/regulation_information/202008/t20200824_162706.html

[42] “Notification of Hydrological Information on Lancang River(January 5, 2021”, Lancang-Mekong Water Resources Cooperation Information Sharing Platform, 5 January 2021, www.lmcwater.org.cn/water_information/regulation_information/202101/t20210105_163831.html

[43]  “Mekong water levels to drop due to power grid maintenance in China”, Mekong River Commission, 6 January 2021, https://www.mrcmekong.org/news-and-events/news/pr001-06102021

[44] “Mekong River drops to “worrying” levels, some sections turning blue-green”, Mekong River Commission, 12 February 2021, https://www.mrcmekong.org/news-and-events/news/pr002-12022021/

[45] “Mekong River levels see slight increase, monsoon rains to begin earlier”. Mekong River Commission, 22 February 2021, https://www.mrcmekong.org/news-and-events/news/pr003-22022021/

[46] This data is provided from two stations located on the Upper Mekong mainstream, one at Jinghong and one on a tributary at Manan in China’s south-western Yunnan province, see “Mekong River levels see slight increase, monsoon rains to begin earlier”, Mekong River Commission, 22 February 2021, https://www.mrcmekong.org/news-and-events/news/pr003-22022021

[47] “Multiple-stakeholder Platform for the Lancang-Mekong Water Sharing”, Global Water Partnership, 23 December 2018, https://www.gwp.org/en/GWP-China/about-gwp-china/news-list/2018/lmc-workshop-in-dali

[48] Alan Basist, Allison Carr, Brian Eyler, Courtney Weatherby and Claude Williams. “Mekong Dam Monitor”. Stimson Center, 10 December 2020, https://monitor.mekongwater.org

[49] “Mekong-U.S. Partnership Track 1.5. Policy Dialogue Opening Plenary”. Stimson Center, 18 March 2021. https://www.stimson.org/event/mekong-u-s-partnership-track-1-5-policy-dialogue.

[50] “Mekong Data Journalism Fellowship”. Earth Journalism Network, 16 February 2021. https://earthjournalism.net/opportunities/expired-opportunities/Mekong-Data-Journalism-Fellowship-2021-

[51] “Discussion on Hydrological Conditions Held with Consensus of Strengthening Lancang-Mekong Water Cooperation”, LMC Water Center, 16 March 2021, http://www.lmcwater.org.cn/dynamic_news/202103/t20210316_164074.html

[52] “3rd International Forum on Water Security & Sustainability”, Water Security & Sustainability, 24 April 2021, https://estds.yicode.ac/assets/doc/handbook-updated-0420-bl-compressed.pdf

[53] Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Hua Chunying’s Regular Press Conference on March 23, 2021”. Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the People’s Republic of China, 24 March 2021, https://www.fmprc.gov.cn/mfa_eng/xwfw_665399/s2510_665401/t1863508.shtml

[54] Lye Liang Fook, “Wang Yi’s Southeast Asia Tour: Significance and Challenges”. ISEAS Perspectives, 2021/10. /articles-commentaries/iseas-perspective/iseas-perspective-2021-10-wang-yis-southeast-asia-tour-significance-and-challenges-by-lye-liang-fook

[55] “Mekong Dam Monitor”, Facebook, 30 December 2020, https://www.facebook.com/mekongdammonitor/posts/111754390816021

[56] “Mekong Dam Monitor”, Facebook, 29-30 March 2021, https://www.facebook.com/mekongdammonitor/posts/157212269603566 ; https://www.facebook.com/mekongdammonitor/posts/157966442861482

[57] On 28 April 2021, the MDM announced “bias in the input SSMI data that was making the wetness values higher than the actual wetness”. The authors said that “a more detailed explanation is forthcoming in a major update to the Mekong Dam Monitor”, but no further information has been provided thus far. See “Mekong Dam Monitor”, Facebook, 28 April 2021, https://www.facebook.com/mekongdammonitor/posts/174623914529068.

[58] The list of events only refers to major milestones. For a full list of events and other information before and after April 2020 related to the EoE Study – please contact the author.

[59] “China, Myanmar reach consensuses on ties, fight against COVID-19”, Xinhua, 12 January 2021,  http://www.xinhuanet.com/english/2021-01/12/c_139661989.htm

[60] “Mekong-U.S. Partnership Track 1.5. Policy Dialogue Opening Plenary”, Stimson Center, 18 March 2021. https://www.stimson.org/event/mekong-u-s-partnership-track-1-5-policy-dialogue; Center for Social Development Studies (CSDS) (2021). The Mekong, China, & SE Asian Transitions Series-Mekong Dams: Debates and the Politics of Evidence [Online, 29 April 2021], https://www.csds-chula.org/activityandevents/2021/4/29/event-resources-the-mekong-china-amp-se-asian-transitions-series-mekong-dams-debates-and-the-politics-of-evidence-online-29-april-2021

[61] Brian Eyler and Courtney Weatherby, “New Evidence: How China Turned off the Tap on the Mekong River”, Stimson Center, 13 April 2020, https://www.stimson.org/2020/new-evidence-how-china-turned-off-the-mekong-tap/#4-the-2019-drought

[62] Fuqiang Tian, Hui Liu, Shiyu Hou, Kunbiao Li, Hui Lu, Guangheng Ni, Xiangpeng Mu and Baiyinbaoligao, “Drought Characteristics of Lancang-Mekong River Basin and the Impacts of Reservoir Regulation on Streamflow”, Tsinghua University, 15 July 2020, http://www.civil.tsinghua.edu.cn//upload/file/20200715/1594791768224016662.pdf

[63] Richard Grünwald, op. cit.

[64] Vannarith Chheang, “Lancang-Mekong Cooperation: A Cambodian Perspective”, ISEAS Perspective, 2018, No. 70, p. 1-9.

[65] Richard Grünwald, op. cit.

[66] Sebastian Biba, “China’s ‘old’ and ‘new’ Mekong River politics: the Lancang-Mekong Cooperation from a comparative benefit-sharing perspective”, op. cit.

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