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Kerry urges balance for energy and resources

At a summit in Myanmar over the weekend, US Secretary of State John Kerry appealed to Mekong Basin countries to meet growing energy demands without compromising regional food security or depleting natural resources.

“We all know that the short-term economic gains, no matter how promising they are, cannot come at the expense of the long-term economic stability and ecosystem of the river,” Kerry said at the ASEAN Ministerial Meeting.

Kerry and the foreign ministers of Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand and Vietnam announced a new working group tasked with developing concrete recommendations for sustainable development along the shared waterway.

Consisting of government officials and nongovernmental academics, the 10-member Eminent and Expert Persons Group is slated to hold its inaugural meeting in December after consultations with US State Department counselor Tom Shannon. Lawyer Sok Siphana was appointed to represent Cambodia. He could not be reached.

Kerry’s appeal comes amid intensifying regional hydropower debates, with 12 projects proposed or in development along the Mekong mainstream: 10 in Laos and two in Cambodia.

In June, Laos yielded to pressure from the other Lower Mekong countries and agreed to submit its second large-scale hydropower project to further regional consultation as long as it was allowed to continue construction. Meanwhile, its first hydropower dam, the Xayaburi, has led to a lawsuit in Thailand, where most of its power would be sent.

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