On December 17, 2019, the First Ministerial Meeting of Lancang- Mekong Water Resources Cooperation issued a joint statement, in which the ministers from the six Lancang-Mekong Cooperation (LMC) countries declared: “Looking back at the Five-year Plan of Action on Lancang-Mekong Cooperation (2018-2022), we reiterate that we will carry out cooperation through top-level design among LMC countries in sustainable water resources utilization and strengthen policy dialogue on water resources.” The statement deemed the Five-Year Plan of Action on Lancang-Mekong Water Resources Cooperation a major achievement in promoting the progress in Lancang- Mekong cooperation.
The water resources cooperation action plan among the six LMC countries can be traced back to the first meeting of the Joint Working Group on Water Resources Cooperation of LMC held in Beijing on February 27, 2017. Representatives from the six countries agreed that in accordance with the spirit of the Second LMC Foreign Ministers’ Meeting, a task force should be established within the Joint Working Group to devise a water resources cooperation action plan. The team was expected to complete a draft action plan before the end of the year. The decision by the Joint Working Group was highly significant in terms of the top-level design of water resources cooperation.
In 2017, the Lancang-Mekong Water Resources Cooperation Center (LMWRCC) was established to support the work of the Joint Working Group. Mandated by the Joint Working Group, LMWRCC began research and preparations for a draft water resources cooperation action plan in the second half of 2017.
By the end of 2017, LMWRCC released an outline of the action plan which took realities on the ground of each country into consideration including water resources and adopted a problem-oriented and demand-oriented approach. The outline synergized with the respective development strategies and planning of each country, including the water-related objectives of the UN 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, reflecting the pragmatic nature of water resources cooperation. It also incorporated relevant experience and practices under various regional mechanisms, embodying collaboration and coordination among the mechanisms.
In January 2018, the Second LMC Leaders’ Meeting in Phnom Penh, Cambodia reviewed and approved the Five-year Plan of Action on Lancang-Mekong Cooperation (2018-2022) and proposed formulating “a five-year action plan for water resources cooperation in which issues of common concerns will or can be addressed.” Water resources cooperation was thus incorporated into the Five-Year Plan of Action on Lancang- Mekong Cooperation as a practical component for the first time.
From July 31 to August 1, 2018, the Joint Working Group organized the first special meeting to work on the draft water resources action plan in Kunming, capital of Yunnan Province. The meeting featured in-depth discussion of the draft action plan and concluded with a revised edition. The meeting was the first of a series of special meetings intended to foster consultation on the text of the water resources action plan organized by the Joint Working Group. The consistent meetings underscored the importance of the work to each country.
On March 1 and 2, 2018, the Joint Working Group held its second meeting and a concurrent international symposium on cross-border water resources and related resources cooperation in Chiang Rai, Thailand. Progress on the water resources action plan became an important topic. The Chinese delegation suggested an update of the draft and presented an outline. The meeting determined that China and Laos would coordinate closely with other countries on the draft throughout 2018.
By the end of August 2018, the six member states had each offered opinions to LMWRCC on the draft water resources action plan which were forwarded to the Joint Working Group.
The Joint Working Group scheduled the second special meeting on the draft water resources action plan for October 10 and 11 in Luang Prabang, Laos. All six countries sent delegations. Consultation was moderated by Zhong Yong, secretary general of LMWRCC. After in-depth discussions, delegates finalized the text of the water resources action plan.
It took a year and a half and two rounds of official consultation for the water resources action plan to be officially adopted by all six countries by the end of 2018. The action plan became the guiding document for water resources cooperation in the sub-region for the subsequent five years.
The water resources action plan identified six cooperation areas, with cooperation in each area led by two member states.
The action plan pointed out that water resources cooperation should be pragmatic and follow the principles of “equal consultation and joint building for shared benefits, holistic approach for coordinated development, and government-guided multiple-participation” in six areas: water resources and green development, water resources management and response to climate change, water capacity cooperation for mutual benefits, water conservancy and livelihood improvement in rural areas, sustainable development of hydroelectric and energy security, and cross-border river cooperation and information sharing. Through policy dialogue, joint research, capacity-building and joint project implementation cooperation, the six countries are expected to achieve specific development goals of strengthening international water exchange and cooperation, enhancing water resources management capacity, promoting water infrastructure and improving living standards, thus achieving overall goals of sustainable usage, management and conservation of water resources for sustainable social and economic development of member states that benefits their peoples.
According to the water resources action plan, the six countries will promote coordinated development of water resources and ecological conservation to enhance human-water harmony. The six countries will strengthen strategic exchange of water resources, promote integrated management of water resources and enhance capacity of water resources management. They will jointly study and analyze the impact of climate change on water resources and enhance their capacity to respond to climate change with particular focus on management of water-related disasters such as floods and droughts.
The six countries will cooperate on water infrastructure planning, surveying, design, financing, construction, operation and post-project evaluation to promote sustainable development of water resources. They will support cooperation between enterprises and government departments on construction of water conservancy facilities to achieve win-win outcomes and provide more public goods and better water public services to the people of all member states. They will actively promote drinking-water and irrigation projects to improve the livelihoods of rural residents. They will strengthen cooperation to propel the development of hydroelectricity in a fair and environmentally friendly manner to support energy security of the subregion. They will strengthen cooperation along cross-border rivers to share hydrological and related information and jointly address water-related challenges exacerbated by climate change.
To ensure smooth implementation of the action plan and realize the overall goals of Lancang-Mekong water resources cooperation, LMWRCC introduced a draft guide document for implementation of the action plan approved by the six LMC countries in September 2018. The document defined the responsibilities and obligations of leading countries, participating countries, the Joint Working Group and LMWRCC in implementing the action plan. The document also clearly defined financial and academic support for implementation.
At the second special meeting on the action plan in Luang Prabang, Laos, from October 10 to 11, 2018, delegations from member states reviewed the draft guide document. After further discussion with functional departments back home, delegations pledged to relay feedback to LMWRCC before the end of November 2018.
The Joint Working Group held its third meeting in Can Tho, Vietnam, from April 2 to 3, 2019. There, all the parties focused on which countries would act as leaders of the various cooperation areas of the water resources action plan. Thanks to common efforts of all member states, the meeting designated lead countries for each cooperation area, with Myanmar heading water resources and green development, Thailand overseeing water resources management and responding to climate change, China leading water capacity cooperation and mutual benefits, Cambodia heading water conservancy and livelihood improvement in rural areas, Laos leading sustainable development of hydroelectric and energy security, and Vietnam in charge of in cross-border river cooperation and information sharing. The meeting also designated China as a backup lead for all priority cooperation areas.
Another special meeting of the Joint Working Group took place in Kunming, Yunnan Province from June 3 to 5, 2019. It featured a thematic seminar on the plan to jointly lead water resources cooperation based on the draft plan introduced by LMWRCC. The plan includes overall 2022 goals for cooperation in six major areas, priority issues/ directions, basis for cooperation, and a working plan, effectively laying a foundation for further implementation.
On October 30, 2019, the third special meeting of the Joint Working Group took place in Foshan, Guangdong Province. Participants engaged in discussion of the list of projects for Lancang-Mekong water resources cooperation and reached consensus on follow-up work. On December 17, ministers from the six LMC countries witnessed adoption of the list at the First Ministerial Meeting of Lancang-Mekong Water Resources Cooperation. The water resources action plan evolved from a blueprint into a series of concrete projects.
Today, the six LMC countries are continuing efforts related to water resources cooperation to create more benefits for people along the river.