The Mekong River has become a new front in U.S.-China rivalry, environmentalists and officials say, with Beijing overtaking Washington in both spending and influence over downstream countries at the mercy of its control of the river’s waters.
It’s a confrontation in which the Trump administration – which has largely maintained funding for an Obama-era environmental and development programmes in the Lower Mekong – is losing ground.
The two powers’ struggle recently moved into the realm of science – with the U.S. and Chinese governments each touting different reports about whether China’s 11 dams on the river were harming nations downstream.
China’s dams have given it extensive control of the waters that flow down to Laos, Myanmar, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam, which have long depended on the river for agriculture, fisheries, and increasingly for hydropower in Laos.
Kay Johnson, Panu Wongcha-um