Deeper Waters of Lancang-Mekong Cooperation | China Unlocked

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Yu Xingjun

The Lancang-Mekong Cooperation (LMC) mechanism was inspired by water and prioritizes water conservation. The two LMC summits both proposed enhancing cooperation in sustainable management and utilization of water resources in the Lancang-Mekong region. To help the general public around the world gain a better understanding of Lancang- Mekong water resources cooperation and pool strength to support such cooperation, China Report ASEAN interviewed Yu Xingjun, senior counsel at the Department of International Cooperation, Science and Technology of China’s Ministry of Water Resources and Chinese leader of the Joint Working Group for Lancang-Mekong Water Resources Cooperation about the developments and achievements of Lancang-Mekong water resources cooperation.

China Report ASEAN: What is the role of water resources in LMC?

Yu Xingjun: The LMC mechanism was inspired by water. Water is the mother of all beings, the key to survival, and the source of civilization. Sustainable usage of water resources is crucial to sustainable socioeconomic development of LMC countries. All six LMC countries are still developing countries, at least for now. Developing the economy and improving living standards are shared goals of the governments and common aspirations of people in all the six countries. The LMC countries, especially the five Mekong countries, all face increasing impacts of the monsoon climate, uneven intra- and inter-annual distribution of precipitation, relatively backward water infrastructure, and frequent floods and droughts. These problems not only threaten flood control security, water supply security, food security and ecological security, but also persist as major deficiencies constraining sustainable socioeconomic development in the region. As such, these issues have aroused scrutiny from the governments and people of the six countries. Addressing acute water problems requires not only efforts from each individual country but also cooperation among all six countries in the sub-region. Tackling regional water challenges for common prosperity and sustainable development throughout the six countries constitutes the strategic basis for Lancang-Mekong water resources cooperation.

China Report ASEAN: During the two LMC summits, what requirements did leaders insist on for water resources cooperation?

Yu: Because water resources play a fundamental and strategic role in economic and social development, the LMC summits attached great importance to the sustainable management and utilization of water resources. The Sanya Declaration, adopted at the first LMC Summit in March 2016, identified water cooperation as one of five priority areas of the LMC and proposed strengthened cooperation on sustainable management and utilization of water resources among LMC countries. In January 2018, the second LMC Summit adopted the Phnom Penh Declaration, calling on LMC countries to boost cooperation in sustainable management and utilization of water resources, build capacity for water management, enhance the emergency response to flood and drought and optimize the supporting roles of the Lancang-Mekong Water Resources Cooperation Forum and the Lancang-Mekong Water Resources Cooperation Center.

It should be noted that at the second LMC Summit, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang presented proposals to effectively implement water cooperation and reinforce production capacity cooperation in areas such as construction of water facilities.

China Report ASEAN: More than three years have passed since the inception of the LMC mechanism in 2016. What progress has been made in Lancang-Mekong water cooperation during this period?

Yu: Since the launch of the LMC, the six countries have made substantial progress in water cooperation. Major developments include:

First, the ministers of water resources of the six countries all now consider Lancang-Mekong water resources cooperation tremendously important. Their frequent mutual visits and effective policy dialogue have built consensus on cooperation in a constant manner. The upcoming Ministerial Meeting of Lancang- Mekong Water Resources Cooperation is a continuation of such efforts and will lift water policy dialogue among the six countries to new heights.

Second, we have jointly formulated the Five-Year Action Plan for Lancang- Mekong Water Resources Cooperation (2018-2022) which identifies the main objectives, guiding principles, prevalent patterns and six major areas of cooperation in the coming years. The plan serves as the guiding document for future Lancang-Mekong water resources cooperation.

Third, we have set up a Joint Working Group for Lancang-Mekong Water Resources Cooperation, which effectively plays the role of a coordinating body for decision making in water resources cooperation. So far, the Joint Working Group has held three annual meetings and five ad hoc meetings.

Fourth, the first Mekong-Lancang Water Resources Cooperation Forum was held, at which we established an exchange platform for water cooperation in the Lancang-Mekong Region, published the Kunming Initiative, built consensus on cooperation and enhanced mutual trust and understanding among the six countries. The six countries will continue to hold the forum regularly.

Fifth, we have carried out extensive technical exchange and cooperation in human resources development. So far, four batches of personnel (1,000 people-times) from the Mekong countries have participated in Lancang- Mekong technical exchange and training programs on water resources. Among them, nearly 100 professionals and graduate students from the Mekong countries including officials from water institutions and academics have joined the “LMC” High-level Water Talents Program to obtain master’s degrees from prestigious water-related universities such as Hohai University in China.

Sixth, we have jointly implemented a group of practical cooperation projects. The six countries have launched more than 30 practical water-related cooperation projects and formulated a list of projects for Lancang-Mekong water cooperation. Safe drinking water and dam safety were identified as priorities for impending cooperation.

Seventh, we have strengthened data and information sharing and jointly tackled droughts in the basin. For 17 years in a row, China has provided the Mekong River Commission with hydrological data on the Lancang River during the flood season and timely reports on the scheduling and operation of upstream hydropower stations in case of emergency, all free of charge. At the same time, China is directly informing the five Mekong countries of flood regimes and cooperating with them on joint assessment of flood and drought situations in the Mekong River Basin.

Eighth, the Lancang-Mekong Water Resources Cooperation Center was established in China. The center actively supports the six countries to cooperate in technical exchange, research, information sharing and capacity building. All six countries have offered strong support for the development of the center by dispatching experts to work there for short terms. The center signed a memorandum of understanding with the Mekong River Commission Secretariat to jointly provide technical support for Lancang- Mekong water cooperation during the Ministerial Meeting of Lancang- Mekong Water Resources Cooperation on December 17, 2019.

Ninth, we have actively expanded the Lancang-Mekong water partnership network by cooperating with other sub-regional cooperation mechanisms such as the Mekong River Commission as well as international organizations such as the World Bank, the Asian Development Bank, the International Water Management Institute (IWMI) and Global Water Partnership (GWP).

China Report ASEAN: What do you predict for future Lancang-Mekong water resources cooperation?

Yu: The six LMC countries will continue to communicate and conduct exchange with each other at deeper and multiple levels by means of ministerial meetings, the Joint Working Group and the Lancang- Mekong Water Resources Cooperation Forum, through which we will forge greater consensus on cooperation and engage in increased practical cooperation. We recommend that under the LMC mechanism, the six countries (1) establish an information sharing platform for the entire river basin to strengthen information sharing among the six countries while promoting construction of a cooperation platform to respond to regional floods and droughts and boost sustainable utilization of water resources; (2) jointly support the development of the Lancang-Mekong Water Resources Center to facilitate technical exchange and cooperation among the six countries; and (3) promote regional production capacity cooperation in water conservancy for mutual benefits and win-win outcomes among all six countries.

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