How Mekong River is turning into a new flashpoint in Indo-Pacific

For several years, US politicians have adopted the Japanese slogan of a “free and open Indo-Pacific,” calling for international law to apply over disputes in the South China Sea, where China is accused of acting aggressively.

Earlier this month, during the East Asia Summit foreign ministers’ meeting, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken called for “a free and open Mekong.”

The latest slogan points to the Mekong River’s importance to peace and stability in mainland Southeast Asia, as well as China’s alleged ambition to gain geopolitical advantage from riparian disputes.

The Mekong River begins in China’s Tibetan Plateau and runs through Myanmar, Laos, Thailand and Cambodia before exiting in Vietnam’s delta region. Hundreds of hydropower dams have been built up and down the river since 2010, and most of them are in China and Laos.

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David Hutt