Dr. Un Kheang is an Associate Professor of Political Science at Northern Illinois University and Member of the Board of Directors at Cambodia Development Center.
Recent reports offer challenging prospects for Cambodia in particular and the lower Mekong Basin in general. Historically low water flow levels in the lower Mekong reduced the Tonle Sap’s seasonal flood plain, plummeting the fish stock which is the primary source of protein for the vast majority of Cambodians. This condition, if persists, poses a potential threat to Cambodia’s food security and biodiversity. Two developments contribute to the low levels of water flow in the downstream Mekong: climate change and hydroelectric dam construction on the upstream of the Mekong.
As far as the Mekong-Lancang is concerned, the correlation between the increased number of dams and the low level of water in the lower Mekong Basin is of critical concern and requires transparent and honest discussion within an effective transnational institutional framework. Only then can potential ecological disaster be averted and sustainable developments along the Mekong-Lancang be achieved. However, as a riparian country, China only holds an observer status in the Mekong River Commission framework, which undeniably limit its participation. For this reason, China has initiated a new sub-regional framework called the Lancang-Mekong Cooperation which has a multi-dimensional scope for the purpose of inclusive and sustainable development along the river and management of the water resource.
It is apparent that due to global geopolitical shifts, the Greater Mekong Subregion can become an ongoing site of great-powers competition. Given its economic power and proximity, China is the natural leader in the Greater Mekong Subregion. However, credibility depends on its commitment to its claim for a shared prosperity for Mekong-Lancang region. In other words, China must “walk the walk” in coordinating and implementing LMC’s action plans in the spirit of a shared future for all riparian states.