China pledges Mekong River data-sharing, details unclear

BANGKOK (Reuters) – China’s prime minister pledged on Monday to share more water management data from its portion of the Mekong River with its neighbours in Southeast Asia after U.S. criticism that it was “hoarding” water and hurting livelihoods downstream.

Details were not available, and it was not clear whether China would work with the 25-year-old Mekong River Commission (MRC), or if it would keep the data-sharing within its own Lancang Mekong Cooperation (LMC) organisation.

“China is willing to offer more assistance within its capacity to other Lancang-Mekong countries for better utilizing water resources,” Prime Minister Li Keqiang was quoted as saying by the Xinhua News Agency.

He spoke at a video-conference summit of leaders of the six LMC members: China, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam.

Two years of record drought on the 4,350-km (2,700-mile) Mekong River have been devastating for many the 60 million people who depend on it for fishing and farming.

A report published by a U.S. research company this year accused China’s 11 dams on the upper stretches of the river of holding back large amounts of water during a drought last year, a finding China disputed.

China has no water treaties with the lower Mekong countries and only shares limited data during the monsoon season on flows on the upper stretch of what it calls the Lancang River.

Thai government spokesman Anucha Burapachaisri told Reuters specifics on data-sharing would be worked out in coming months.

“Details will be discussed among relevant ministers from the six countries,” he said.

Downstream countries say they need more data from China to help them make plans and request adjustments in the river’s flow.

Thailand also urged the China-backed LMC, set up in 2016, to work with experts at the Mekong River Commission (MRC) when developing its information-sharing platform, the government said in a statement.

Management of the Mekong has become another front in the battle for influence between China and the United States, with the U.S. ambassador to Thailand describing China as setting up the LMC as a way to set the agenda on developing the waterway.

The MRC traces its origins back to U.S. efforts to promote development during the Cold War. It works with the governments of Laos, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam to foster the sharing and sustainable development of the river and its resources.

Officials at the MRC say it welcomes cooperation with the LMC and China.

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