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China’s Weaponization of Mekong River Dams to Pressure Downstream Countries

For the past decade, the Mekong River has had abnormal water pattern: high flows during the dry season and low flows during the rainy season. This is caused by the upstream Chinese dams, which release water for power generation during the dry season and retain water during the rainy season.

The Mekong River has a total length of more than 4,800 kilometers (~3000 miles) in its main branch. Its 2,139-kilometer (1330 mile) upper section in China is known as the Lancang River. After flowing out of China, the Mekong River flows through five countries in Southeast Asia – Myanmar, Laos, Thailand, Cambodia, and Vietnam. It is a lifeline supporting 65 million people.

By the end of December 2020, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) had built 12 giant dams on the main branch of the Lancang River, with eight more under construction. In addition, there are 85 dams on hundreds of tributaries to the Lancang River.

On January 1, 2019, China put four newly-constructed dams into operation. As a result, the Lower Mekong has experienced a severe drought starting that year and lasting for more than four years (through the present).

The year 2020 was the driest year for the Mekong on record. Although upstream Chinese reservoirs had sufficient water during the rainy season, some of the Mekong River beds downstream were dry and cracked.

China’s use of dams to exert pressure on downstream countries has been going on since at least 2016. In March of that year, the Mekong River’s water volume was reduced, and Vietnam’s rice region suffered a severe drought, with seawater back filling the river bed. The CCP then took the “generous” step of releasing water for “disaster relief.” A week later, China’s then-Premier Li Keqiang hosted the Lancang-Mekong Cooperation Meeting in Sanya, Hainan. The five thirsty downstream countries signed the Lancang-Mekong Agreement, signing on to Chinese investment, loans, and a special fund to promote China’s Belt Road Initiative in Southeast Asia.

Source: Epoch Times, August 10, 2023