Friday, April 2, 2010

Even if not to blame for Mekong drought, still a bad neighbor

When will China realize that a lesson it learned during the 2003 SARS crisis has broad applicability? 

In Bangkok leaders are meeting to discuss a different crisis that may implicate China.  The Mekong is running at a historic low and some 14,000 Thai villages are affected by the drought.  Thailand claims several new dams in China are to blame. (The map at right shows the new dams China is building along the Mekong).  Meanwhile, the government of Cambodia does not blame China -- possibly on account of the level of Chinese investment the country is receiving. 

During the SARS crisis of 2003, foreign governments complained that they "couldn't pry information loose from China's secretive government."  How well has China been keeping its neighbors up to date concerning its activities along the Upper Mekong?  A 2008 article published in the Asia Times about China's dams noted:
China has remained reluctant to reveal information about its dams, including its own environmental and hydrological studies of their impact. This lack of transparency has continued despite heavy criticism from environmental groups and official pleas from Southeast Asian neighbors seeking more information. 

China's unwillingness to allow independent scientific studies on its dams' impacts makes it difficult to conclusively determine what impact they have had on water levels. Even within China there is very little public discourse on the dams, in part because the issue is treated as a matter of national security.
The drought may, in fact, be due to low rainfall and not the Chinese damns.  But the fact that China is fast creating new enemies in the region represents a public relations disaster of China's own making.

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