China to invest billions of dollars in ally Cambodia

An artist’s impression of the new airport. Supplied

The world's 12th-longest river, the Mekong runs almost 5,000 kilometers (3,100 miles) from the Tibetan Plateau down into mainland Southeast Asia before emptying into the South China Sea in Vietnam.

"We don't know why there are less fish now", he told AFP of a mystery that has mired many deeper into poverty.

Li was speaking at a meeting of a forum in Phnom Penh on Wednesday with leaders of 5 countries along the Mekong River - Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, Vietnam and Myanmar.

It helps feed around 60 million people across its river basin. The draft is expected to be approved at the Cambodia summit.

China is the driving force behind numerous projects, having already built eight dams on the river since the 1990s and now building or planning more than a dozen more. Environmentalists have warned this could have dire consequences on the ecosystem.

Communities in the lower Mekong countries have reported depleted fish stocks in recent years and are blaming the dams.

China is increasing its investment along the river through building dams and a navigation channel.

Today's summit will further legitimise China's leadership of the Mekong region.

That allows Beijing to keep "undermining habitats and millions of livelihoods downstream".

The Mekong River, known as the Lancang in China, is the heart of mainland Southeast Asia.

Established in 2015, the LMC had made significant progress after foreign ministers meeting in Dali, China, last month approved the first batch of 132 projects, while leaders yesterday considered a second batch of 214 projects, Hun Sen said.

"Effective regional cooperation is urgently needed on the Mekong to ensure its sustainable development and management". Cooperation on trade, transport tourism and environmental protection was also vital. The body was seen as a rival to the long-standing Mekong River Commission, which has been around for more than 60 years but whose membership does not include China and Myanmar.

While the action plan focused very much on infrastructure development, leaders were paying less attention to the projects' environmental impacts, said Pianporn, International River's Thailand campaign director.

Firms and state agencies from Thailand, Vietnam and Laos also stand to gain from their investments in the hydropower projects.

"The crux of why the Chinese economy was able to perform so well is that we insisted on not implementing a flood of stimuli" and instead sought to foster "new sources of growth", he said.

Calls to protect the river have largely gone unheeded in Southeast Asia, where governments are eager to meet energy needs and unwilling to stand up to China or resist its cash.

"We depend on the Mekong river", he said.

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