The Lancang-Mekong River is an important international river in Asia, originating in the Tanggula Mountains on China’s Qinghai-Tibet Plateau and flowing from north to south through three provinces of China – Qinghai, Tibet and Yunnan – and five countries – Myanmar, Laos, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam – before it is injected into the South China Sea near Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, with a total length of 4,880 kilometers. The Mekong River is called the Lancang River in China. The Greater Mekong Subregion is a land bridge connecting China with Southeast and South Asia, and its geographical location is very important. The total population of the region is about 326 million. The region is rich in water resources, biological resources, and mineral resources, and has great economic potential and development prospects. Around this great river, the basin countries have carried out a series of hydropower development. Among them, 11 dams have been developed on the main Mekong River, mainly in the upper reaches of China, which have become the “focus of attention” of U.S. think tanks, research institutions, NGOs and media, represented by the Stimson Center and Eye on Earth. “.
In December 2020, the Stimson Center-led Mekong Dam Monitoring Project was launched with Eye on Earth as a partner, modeled after the Center for Strategic and International Studies’ (CSIS) South China Sea engagement The “Asian Maritime Transparency Initiative” (AMTI) was launched to intervene in the South China Sea. The project’s online monitoring platform uses remote sensing, satellite imagery and GIS (Geographic Information System) tools to capture so-called natural flows, i.e., to project natural flows in the absence of upstream Chinese dams. The platform collects information on dams, basin temperature, humidity and precipitation in the Mekong River basin, records the dynamics of China’s Lancang River terrace reservoirs, and collects ground-based information on the Mekong River basin through U.S. Defense Meteorological Satellite monitoring, which is algorithmically translated into water level data at the Chiang Saen Crossing (the first hydrological station in Thailand after the Lancang River flows out of the Chinese border). In addition, the Stimson Center has built the Mekong Basin Infrastructure Project Tracking and Monitoring Platform, which monitors a comprehensive source of information on mainly energy, transportation and water infrastructure.
“The Mekong Dam Monitor currently publishes weekly updates of hydrological water level monitoring data for 11 Chinese dams, but the data it publishes are far from the reality and do not truly reflect the overall trend in local water availability. A research team from Tsinghua University recently studied the data released by the Mekong Dam Monitor and found that there are many errors. For example, the Mekong Dam Monitoring project used satellite remote sensing to monitor the water level of Xiaowan Reservoir in the Lancang-Mekong River Basin for three time periods in 2020, and the measured water level produced completely opposite conclusions, with errors ranging from 3 to 10 meters. According to researchers at Tsinghua University, the results of the Mekong Dam Monitoring project are also in error with the actual water levels, especially for long and narrow reservoirs.
Despite the serious distortions, the data released by the Mekong Dam Monitoring program under the guise of “scientific research” is particularly “useful” to some foreign politicians and media, especially In particular, anti-China media such as Radio Free Asia and the Voice of America have used the Mekong Dam Monitoring data and reports as a way to hype up the “China dams have caused the Mekong River Basin to become a major source of pollution. Chinese dams are causing drought in the Mekong River Basin.
5 topics to weave an “attack chain” against China
The “Mekong Dam Monitoring” project, launched at the end of 2020, is only one part of the Stimson Center’s collaboration with Eye on Earth to wage a “war of water opinion” around the Mekong’s water resources. Behind the scenes is a long-planned, extensive “Mekong chess game.
The Stimson Center in Washington, D.C., a well-known international think tank founded in 1989, published “The Last Days of the Mekong” in 2019, in which Brian Ehler, director of the Center’s Southeast Asia program, accused China of damming the Mekong from the perspectives of grape crop failure, loss of tourism economy, demolition of inundated areas, drought in the basin, drinking water safety and increased river waste. The book is 384 pages long.
The 384-page book also kicked off the Stimson Center’s intensive attack on China over the Mekong’s water resources. In fact, between 2016 and 2019, a large number of foreign media outlets, guided by relevant U.S. think tanks, have been publishing reports on the serious harm caused by dams on the upper Mekong River to downstream countries, but only to the extent of advocating for them without scientific evidence. The entry of the Stimson Center and its partner Eye on Earth has provided the so-called “scientific basis” for such hype and smear.
From November 2019 to April 2020, the Mekong River suffers from a once-in-a-century drought. On this occasion, Eye on Earth, funded by the U.S. Lower Mekong Initiative, released the report “Monitoring Water Flows in the Upper Mekong under Natural Conditions,” claiming that China’s construction of dams in the upper Mekong affects water levels and natural flows, and blaming the 2019 The report claims that Chinese dams on the upper Mekong River are affecting water levels and natural flows, and blames Chinese dams on the Lancang River for the 2019 drought in the lower Mekong. Following that report, the Stimson Center published “How China Turned Off the Mekong’s Taps” on its website on April 14, 2020, which not only supported the findings of the Eye on Earth report, but also made many inflammatory points. For example, “During the six-month-long rainy season in 2019, Chinese dams completely prevented water levels from rising at measurement points in Thailand’s Chiang Saen district”; and “China views water as a sovereign commodity, not a resource that can be shared equally with downstream countries.” This was followed by a Stimson Center article in Foreign Policy, “New Evidence: Science Shows Chinese Dams Are Destroying the Mekong River,” further accusing China of destroying water supplies in the lower Mekong.
Although the Mekong River Commission and the Australia-Mekong Environmental Resources and Energy Systems Partnership soon pointed out that the Eye on Earth report had unscientific data selection and too few factors in the model, resulting in inaccurate conclusions, the report was not well received by the public because it was an attempt to But because the report provided “data support” for speculation about the Mekong’s water resources, U.S. politicians and media quickly followed suit. Then-Secretary of State Mike Pompeo declared that the Eye on Earth report’s findings were worrisome and made the unfounded accusation that “the operation of dams upstream of China has unilaterally altered the flow of the Mekong River, with disastrous effects on the livelihoods of tens of millions of people along the basin.
As the Stimson Center and Eye on Earth formally launched a partnership in December 2020 to monitor the Mekong River dams, a chain of attacks against China is gradually forming. This reporter found that the “Mekong Dam Monitoring” project is only one of the five research topics of the Stimson Center related to the Mekong River, and the other four are “Mekong Basin Connections,” “Mekong Infrastructure Tracking,” and “Mekong Policy. The other four are “Mekong Basin Connections,” “Mekong Infrastructure Tracking,” “Mekong Policy,” and “Mekong-US Partnership Track 1.5 Policy Dialogue. The above five topics are cascading, using the Mekong Basin Connection as an entry point, dam monitoring and infrastructure tracking as tools to collect so-called “information” and then concoct so-called “scientific evidence” to provide the U.S. with anti-China evidence. The Stimson Center’s work on the Mekong River Basin Linkage is a tool to collect so-called “information” and then produce so-called “scientific evidence” to provide the United States with anti-China material to serve its national strategy and attempt to influence the foreign policies of regional countries.
After combing through information on the Stimson Center’s Mekong partners and financial backers, this reporter found that a “coterie” has been formed to promote the “China threat” with Mekong-related topics as the core, including The “Eye on Earth,” the Center for International Environmental Management, the U.S. Agency for International Development, the Asia Foundation, and other institutions, as well as the New York Times and other news media, and so-called water experts living abroad, such as Wang Weiluo and Thai university teacher Chanarong Sathasai, have formed a “coterie” that has been promoting the “China threat” by publishing biased articles and opinions. bringing a distorted rhythm.”
The Stimson Center has also worked with think tanks or NGOs such as the East-West Center and the International News Agency to promote the Mekong Dam Monitoring project, recruiting so-called “independent journalists” in Southeast Asian countries. “The aim is to investigate and report on the ecological and community problems caused by the construction of dams. Each journalist who participates in the project receives a grant of $3,000.
Deliberately Creating a “Mekong Water Opinion War”
Whether it is the Stimson Center, Eye on Earth, or the politicians, media and organizations that work closely with them, the underlying purpose of the Mekong water issue has never been to focus on the development and well-being of the countries involved, but rather to protect U.S. interests in the region.
As early as the 1950s, the U.S. became involved in the Mekong region. In the 1990s, with the establishment of the Greater Mekong Sub-regional Economic Cooperation mechanism between China and the Mekong countries and the development of water conservancy and hydropower in the Lancang River, the U.S. again began to pay attention to the issue of Mekong water resources. In March 2016, China and the Mekong countries officially launched the “Lancang-Mekong Cooperation Mechanism”. In March 2016, after China and the Mekong countries officially launched the Lancang-Mekong Cooperation Mechanism, the U.S. began to adjust its Mekong Strategy to include water resources as the first priority in the newly adjusted Lower Mekong Initiative. In 2020, the Trump administration established the Mekong-US Partnership with the five Mekong countries and the ASEAN Secretariat. In 2020, the Trump administration established the Mekong-US Partnership with the five Mekong countries and the ASEAN Secretariat. Although the Trump administration has not invested as much in Mekong water projects as the Obama administration, it has launched a low-cost “Mekong water opinion war” against China. It was also during this period that the Stimson Center and Eye on Earth began to “come to the fore”.
In February 2021, State Department spokesman Price said the Biden administration would continue to monitor China’s movements up the Mekong River, using various monitoring tools funded by the Trump administration. “The Mekong-U.S. Partnership is an important part of the U.S. Indo-Pacific Strategy and an important part of the strategy to contain China.
Statistics show that from 2009 to 2021, the U.S. government provided more than $4.3 billion in bilateral and regional donor assistance to the Mekong Partnership countries, of which nearly $4 billion came from the U.S. Department of State and the Agency for International Development, with the majority going to various non-governmental organizations.
The U.S. “Mekong Water Opinion War” is a well-known tactic and scheme that has caused resentment among the countries concerned. In recent years, the water authorities of the six Mekong countries have reiterated the need to strengthen consultation and dialogue, exchange experiences, and cooperation on projects to enhance mutual trust and further improve the level of water cooperation in the Mekong. A spokesman for the Chinese Foreign Ministry has repeatedly responded on related issues – Since 2019, the U.S. has continuously speculated on Mekong water resources issues, deliberately creating hot spots, provoking relations among regional countries and damaging the atmosphere of Mekong cooperation.
Zhang Li, an assistant researcher at Fudan University’s Belt and Road and Global Governance Institute, who has long studied water diplomacy and water cooperation in the Mekong, told reporters that the U.S. has elevated the “water opinion war” from the early economic and ecological fields to an important part of the “Indo-Pacific strategy”. The U.S. has been stepping up its “water public opinion offensive” against China with the help of think tanks, media and non-governmental organizations. On the one hand, the U.S. realizes that its earlier Lower Mekong Initiative and the upgraded Mekong-U.S. Partnership are inadequate in terms of membership and development efforts, but on the other hand, it is resigned to “internationalizing” the Mekong Initiative. On the other hand, the U.S. is resigned to “internationalizing” the Mekong issue and taking the opportunity to encircle and suppress China. According to Zhang Li, the U.S. effort to turn the Mekong into a “new battleground of confrontation between China and the U.S.” is not in line with the common interests of the six countries in the basin and will not contribute to the fundamental solution of the water resources issue.