By Wang Hai
The Ministerial Meeting of Lancang-Mekong Water Resources Cooperation, organized by China’s Ministry of Water Resources (MWR), was held in Beijing on December 17, 2019. It was the first gathering of ministerial-level officials overseeing water resources from the Lancang- Mekong countries of China, Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand and Vietnam and represented concrete action to implement consensus from the two leaders’ meetings of the Lancang- Mekong Cooperation (LMC).
The conference reviewed the work report by the Joint Working Group for Lancang-Mekong Water Resources Cooperation and featured the release of a joint statement and proposal list for LMC projects as well as the signing of a memorandum of understanding on cooperation between the Lancang- Mekong Water Resources Cooperation Center and the Mekong River Commission Secretariat.
A “Flagship Brand” under LMC
Lancang-Mekong water resources cooperation among the six countries is marked by a strategic foundation and a clear direction. In March 2016, the First LMC Leaders’ Meeting approved the Sanya Declaration and formally established the LMC mechanism. The Phnom Penh Declaration was adopted at the Second LMC Leaders’ Meeting in January 2018, which reiterated the need to strengthen cooperation on sustainable management and utilization of Lancang-Mekong water resources and required the six countries to improve water management capabilities and emergency management of floods and droughts.
This conference is an important measure to implement the consensus reached at the two LMC Leaders’ Meetings and an important platform to enhance policy dialogue, information exchange and technical cooperation on water resources. Under the theme “Enhancing Water Partnership for Sustainable Development,” the meeting reflected the goodwill involved in building a community of shared future of peace and prosperity among Lancang-Mekong countries and demonstrated common determination to meet the goals on water set by the United Nations 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.
E Jingping, minister of the MWR, stressed that Lancang-Mekong water resources cooperation should prioritize development foremost and adhere to equal consultation, pragmatism, efficiency, openness and inclusiveness. He insisted on strengthening established cooperation mechanisms, promoting rational development, building a high-level information platform and upholding the principles of extensive consultation, joint contribution and shared benefits. He believes that such efforts are necessary to make Lancang-Mekong water resources cooperation a “flagship brand” under the LMC.
The minister also offered four suggestions to deepen Lancang- Mekong water resources cooperation:
First, Lancang-Mekong water resources cooperation should fully respect the rights and interests of countries involved in terms of rational development and utilization of water resources. Because all the six countries are still developing nations, they need to formulate water resources development strategies that are sustainable and suitable for their unique national conditions to ensure the people’s benefits are maximized.
Second, Lancang-Mekong water resources cooperation should thoroughly consider each country’s major concerns. Countries in the river basin have the right to develop and utilize water resources rationally, but they also shoulder the responsibility of caring for other countries. We also need to take responsibility for protecting water resources and coordinate and balance the relationship between upstream and downstream, economic development and ecological protection.
Third, only cooperation in the Lancang-Mekong river basin will create a win-win situation for all six countries. Presently, the six nations are facing challenges such as frequent floods and droughts, damage to aquatic ecosystems, increased water pollution and uncertainty caused by climate change. The six countries are building a community of shared future of peace and prosperity to share opportunities, jointly shoulder responsibilities and face development challenges together. We must insist on equal consultation and fully recognize each other’s concerns to achieve win-win cooperation.
Fourth, Lancang-Mekong water resources cooperation should be handled through consultations executed by the six countries themselves. Lancang-Mekong river basin is shared by the six nations, which should lead the planning of Lancang-Mekong water resources cooperation and discuss cooperation opportunities on their own.
Enhancing Consultation and Dialogue
The ministers of water resources of Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand and Vietnam praised the meeting and highlighted its significance.
Secretary of the Ministry of Water Resources and Meteorology of Cambodia Bun Hean remarked that to overcome sustainable development challenges of LMC and avoid problems, countries need to communicate closely. He praised the meeting as an ideal platform for countries to communicate and an ideal opportunity for ministers to express their views.
Sommad Pholsena, minister of Natural Resources and Environment of Laos, stressed that Laos has always attached great importance to partnerships in Lancang-Mekong water resources cooperation. “We highly value China’s support and contributions through multilateral and bilateral frameworks, especially to the implementation of the Sanya Declaration, the Phnom Penh Declaration and the Five-Year Plan of Action on Lancang-Mekong Water Resources Cooperation (2018-2022). ” Pholsena pledged that Laos would work closely with other member states to push cooperation to a broader and deeper level through policy dialogue, joint research, capacity building and cooperative projects.
Win Khant, permanent secretary of Ministry of Transport and Communications of Myanmar, called the conference a milestone in Lancang- Mekong water resources cooperation. He predicted that the meeting would greatly promote the Lancang-Mekong water resources cooperation and advance the economic and social development of the region.
Le Cong Thanh, deputy minister of Natural Resources and Environment of Vietnam, stressed that the six countries also face “very big challenges” in water resources cooperation such as climate change, environmental pollution and abnormal water levels. “These challenges must be addressed through joint efforts of all member states and the international community,” he insisted. “I am very pleased to see that the theme of this ministerial meeting is ‘Enhancing Water Partnership for Sustainable Development’, which is very timely.”
Tewan Liptapallop, Minister Attached to the Prime Minister’s Office of Thailand, commented that the ministerial meeting would help integrate the LMC with the development strategies of each member state, strengthening publicity and public awareness, and consolidating ties between secretariats of the six LMC countries. “The LMC is shifting towards promoting social and economic development, and Thailand will work actively and closely with all the other countries involved to promote the effectiveness of the ministerial meeting and advance inclusive growth in the region.”