The world is witnessing China’s consistent grind of expansion that doesn’t seem to stop anytime soon. But the Trump administration always finds their way to bring Jinping one step down. Mekong cooperation sounds like another Trump card.
The United States government after a virtual meeting on 11th September, 2020 launched the ‘Mekong-US Partnership’. Michael R. Pompeo, under Trump’s administration, took the announcement of Mekong cooperation to the world by saying in the press conference: “Our relation with Mekong partnership countries is an integral part of our Indo-Pacific vision and our strategic partnership with ASEAN”
The US government stated that this agreement is for the development and to keep a check on crimes through sea routes in Southeast Asia. However, the world knows that it is another weapon for the US government to create geo-political pressure on China and curb its expansion in Southeast Asia.
Who are the member countries of Mekong cooperation?
The five southeast Asian member countries along the US are Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand and Vietnam. In the official press conference, Pompeo also mentioned that their efforts under the Mekong-US Partnership will also include working closely with like-minded partners like Japan, Australia, India, South Korea and others. Mekong cooperation is named after river Mekong which is the most important river in Southeast Asia. To understand the significance of this partnership, we first need to understand the importance of river Mekong.
Environmental and Political Significance of River Mekong
Mekong is the longest river in Southeast Asia. It originates from Tibetan plateau, flows 4,180 kms through China and the five member countries of the Mekong partnership and ends finally into the South China Sea. The river also forms a natural boundary between the three countries- Laos, Burma and Thailand.
Watch: The Importance of the Mekong River
The river is also the biggest source of inland fishery for countries like Cambodia and Laos and almost their entire fish-food (which is the main food for the lower southeast Asian countries) comes from Mekong. Due to its paramount significance in the region, the river has always been a matter of disputes in the concerned countries. Major role player in the disputes being China.
How is China creating Disputes in the Mekong River?
Countries in Southeast Asia depend immensely on the river. Almost 250 million people living in the lower Mekong basin derive their food, energy and water needs from the river. Currently these nations are fighting a prolonged drought situation which are partly the result of lack of monsoon and partly, China.
China has built 11 dams in the upper region of Mekong river to contain the maximum water supply in Chinese reservoirs. Till early 2000s, southeast Asian countries were reportedly developing at a promising rate. It was predicted that power consumption needs in these countries will increase by 80 percent in next 20 years. However, China’s dam creation policy not only curbed the major water source in the nations but also started building political pressure on the governments of these countries. Creation of these dams is China’s move to increase its influence and expand in the surrounding nations.
What are the US motives behind the Mekong cooperation?
Without choosing words and saying it explicitly, the US has given the message that through this partnership, it will curb Chinese expansion in the Southeast Asian countries. 4 Major aspects of the Mekong Strategy that have been set as goals by the US government for this partnership are:
1. Water Security and Trans-national Crime Control
Michael Pompeo announced that USD 55 million will be allotted to battle trans-national crimes occurring through sea route of this region like smuggling of narcotics, arms, banned wildlife products, human trafficking, etc. This project will also focus on strengthening water security of the Southeast Asian countries.
2. Counter Threats from CCP
Pompeo continued by saying “We need to be candid, however, about the challenges we face from the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), which increasingly threatens the Mekong’s natural environment and economic autonomy.”
3. Encourage Data Sharing
“We encourage countries of the Mekong region to hold CCP accountable to its pledge to share water data. The data should be public and should be released year-round. It should include water as well as water related data and land use, dam construction and operation data. It should be shared with the Mekong River Commission, the organization that serves the interest of Mekong region countries and not Beijing” said Pompeo.
4. Strengthening Regional Governance
US government also dedicated USD 6 million to:
- strengthen regional governance
- promote transparency
- Support local voices
- Advancing their research and promoting exploration of diverse perspective
- Development of east-west transportation to boost connectivity with India and Bangladesh
- Promote women’s economic empowerment
- Continue third country training with Singapore.
China’s increasing military and economic expansion in Indo-Pacific region is also one of the priority concerns for America and this partnership can be one way of dealing with the same. Apart from making territorial claims in South China Sea, China has also built militarized islands and reefs in the region, all of which calls for an urgent action against the expansion.
As huge as the Mekong cooperation looks, it would be interesting to witness how this Trump card affects the Jinping government.