Water brew conflict

The US politicization of ecological water issues in the Mekong River with the aim of tarnishing China’s reputation through launching rhetoric has become more trendy. The Stimson Center, a US-backed think tank, again chided China in February for “holding a tremendous amount of water” and “may need to be paid to release water for drought-stricken downstream communities,” which the latest US efforts. to sow discord in the area.

Misrepresentation and biased reports targeting the dams China built along the Mekong River have intensified. What’s behind it is a long-planned and elaborate war of public opinion, orchestrated by US officials, think tanks, the media and activists in support of such actions, the Global Times found.

With a big investment in looking after the mouthpieces of this discourse campaign, the US is trying to turn the Mekong River basin into a new battleground against China, similar to the South China Sea.

Who are the typical mouthpieces? What are some of the typical combined tactics they use?

Typical hands in a combination clap

Founded in Washington DC in 1989 and many members of which are former and current US government officials, the Stimson Center is a key promoter raising awareness of claims that Chinese dams harm downstream ecology.

In 2019, Brian Eyler, director of the Stimson Center’s Southeast Asia program, published a book called Last Days of the Mighty Mekong, in which he attributed several downstream problems — from poor grape harvests, a decline in tourism and drought in the basin to polluted drinking water and more waste into the river – mainly to “damage” caused by Chinese dams upstream.

The publication of the 384-page book marks the beginning of the Stimson Center’s intensive attack on China over the Mekong water sources. And the book quickly became the main “scientific” source for the biased reports of some Western media discrediting Chinese dams.

Stimson Center’s meddling culminated in the period between November 2019 and April 2020, when an unexpected drought hit the Mekong River. With funding from the US-led Lower Mekong Initiative, the Stimson Center, in conjunction with its partner Eyes on Earth, released a report claiming that the Chinese dam construction on the upper Mekong was suspending water levels and natural water flow, and the report blamed China for holding back the water, a move that is believed to have sparked the 2019 drought on the lower Mekong.

The Stimson Center further blatantly made some sensational claims against Chinese dams in its article “How China Turned Off the Tap on the Mekong River” in April 2020, berating that “Chinese policymakers view water as a sovereign resource rather than a shared resource.” .”

Chinese experts, intergovernmental agency Mekong River Commission (MRC) and the Australia-Mekong Partnership for Environmental Resources and Energy Systems (AMPERES) were quick to point out that the report contained factual contradictions with unscientific data selection and too few factors in the model, leading to to erroneous conclusions.

But it hasn’t stopped premeditated US politicians like former US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and the media from quickly grabbing and disseminating these bits of inconclusive data.

The Global Times found that a “chain of attack” has formed linked to the Stimson Center and Eyes on Earth to spread the “Chinese dam threat” across the Mekong River fallacy.

The chain mainly consists of institutions such as the Human Rights Watch, the International Union for Conservation of Nature, the United States Agency for International Development and The Asia Foundation, media outlets such as the New York Times and the BBC, as well as some alleged “independent research scientists” who live in other countries and regions and have distorted the facts by publishing biased opinions.

Some media outlets have developed more innovative ways, such as drawing biting caricatures, in an effort to tarnish China’s image.

These attacks normally begin amid drought, which observers say is ideal timing and a perfect hook to take full advantage of their previously constructed false claims against China.

Another common trick used in the chain is to escalate ecological problems with water resources into social or humanitarian crises, such as alleged dam-induced droughts that negatively affect food security and even lead to unemployment within fishing communities, in order to further fuel anti-Chinese sentiment among the local population . They can further escalate social problems into political ones, forcing the authorities of countries that have collaborated with China on dam projects to make policy changes that are unfavorable to China in the interest of political stability.

Blaming China for damaging the ecology of Cambodia’s Tonlé Sap Lake downstream to the detriment of fishermen, and stirring up Cambodian people’s protest against the Chinese-built Lower Sesan 2 dam in Cambodia are typical examples.

A general view of Cambodia’s 400 megawatt Lower Sesan 2 hydroelectric dam, invested and built by China Photo: VCG

Taking care of local mouthpieces

Observers found that the West has tried to smear Lancang-Mekong cooperation on water resources by using scientists in the Mekong River countries as their mouthpieces. For example, Chainarong Setthachua, a lecturer and ecology expert at Mahasarakham University in Thailand, wrote in an article that the reduction in fish stocks due to the changes in water level in the Mekong River in Chiang Rai province was due to the Chinese dams and the Xayaburi dam of Laos. † He suggested that local societies should criticize China and China’s investments in the Mekong River.

After the Stimson Center released unsubstantiated reports about the Mekong River, some people in several countries of interest, including Thailand, the Philippines and Malaysia formed the online organization “Milk Tea Alliance”, claiming that the dams built by China on the top The Mekong River caused drought in five downstream countries: Thailand, Laos, Myanmar, Cambodia and Vietnam. It called for more people to speak out about water rights along the river and to end China’s “bullying,” according to media reports.

Subsequently, overseas media controlled by anti-Chinese forces continued to hype the troubles over the Mekong River. Some anti-Chinese disruptors, including Hong Kong activist Joshua Wong Chi-fung, and Taiwan island secessionist Zhou Shuguang, were also found to have participated in supporting the alliance.

The Global Times learned from sources that in September 2020, the US embassy and consulates in Thailand teamed up with local organizations that tend to amplify unfavorable voices against China in conducting the “Thai Job Investigation” project.

The project was designed to encourage villagers to collect data on ecological resources in Thailand’s Mekong River basin, as the US government and associated anti-Chinese forces believed such data could support their smear campaign against China.

In February 2021, the Stimson Center also jointly launched the Mekong Data-Journalism Fellowship to fund and train journalists in lower Mekong countries to write investigative reports on water-related news about the Mekong River, such as environmental damage caused by dam construction. .

Clear plot to sow discord

Observers pointed out that the fundamental purpose of these entities’ hype over the Mekong Water issue has never been to focus on the development and well-being of the relevant countries and people, but to promote US interests in the region. to protect.

Since the 1990s, with the establishment of the Greater Mekong Subregion Economic Cooperation Program between China and other Mekong countries, and the creation of China’s water resources upstream, the US has begun to attach more importance to the issue of Mekong water resources.

In 2009, the US co-founded the Lower Mekong Initiative with Laos, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam and formally incorporated it into the initiative in 2012. the Lancang-Mekong Cooperation Mechanism.

In 2020, the Trump administration further established the “Mekong-US Partnership” with five Mekong countries and launched a cheap rhetoric campaign against China.

Experts told the Global Times that it would be unscientific to attribute changes in river flow simply to the construction of dams upstream, because changes in river flow are the result of many factors, and climate is the most fundamental and important. In addition, it is noteworthy that the flow in China’s watershed accounts for only 13.5 percent of the total discharge of the Mekong River, with a very limited impact on the lower reaches of the Mekong River.

Political criticism from outside the region is an affront to scientific research and a deliberate incitement to sow mistrust among the riparian states, observers noted.

Currently, the US has elevated the water diplomacy discourse in the Mekong region from a purely ecological problem to a key tool in the influence of its Indo-Pacific strategy, turning the war of public opinion into a complex campaign. through work with the media, activists and think tanks, Zhang Li, an assistant professor on water diplomacy and Lancang-Mekong cooperation on water resources at Fudan University, told the Global Times.

With an initial investment of $150 million, the US claimed to have launched a partnership between the Mekong and the US as an integral part of its ‘Indo-Pacific vision’, which observers say shows that the accelerated pace of politicization of water issues in the region demonstrates China’s growing influence in Southeast Asia.

But the US turning the Mekong River into a “new battleground for a China-US confrontation” does not serve the common interests of the six countries along the Mekong River, nor does it fundamentally help to solve the water problem, warned Zhang.

Source: Vietnam Insider


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