China's dam-building ambitions and alleged lack of transparency were front and centre yesterday during a roundtable discussion on Mekong River development held in the capital.
Representatives from the Chinese embassy defended their country’s record, claiming that China was “eager to participate” in regional cooperation mechanisms.
“We aren’t dominating this river,” embassy representative Xu Daizhu said. “We want to cooperate with other countries in this region, and we want to cooperate with each other to use the water resources in this region.”
However, panelists accused the Asian power of irresponsible development.
“Chinese dams cause unprecedented social and environmental problems, causing damage to agriculture, fishery forests and ways of life,” said fellow panelist Pou Sothirak, former minister of industry, mines and energy.
China is now the top builder of dams in Cambodia, Ame Trandem, Southeast Asia Program Director for International Rivers, said yesterday. Currently, five large Chinese dams have been approved in the Kingdom and another four are under consideration, Trandem said, adding that four dams constructed on the Mekong in China’s Yunnan province were undertaken without consulting China’s neighbours.
During yesterday’s discussion, China’s transparency also came under assault. “The Chinese government in the past has been keeping all the information on the dams confidential,” Pou Sothirak said. “If your government would be so kind as to join the Mekong River Commission, that would be a big gift, because joining means you need to release everything openly.” Trandem supported allegations of a lack of transparency, saying that, “to date, China has failed to meet international standards of accountability, transparency and public participation”. However, Xu Daizhu upheld China’s commitment to regional cooperation. “China is willing to listen, we aren’t closing our doors and doing our own thing,” she said. “That’s why I am here and learning about your concerns.”