Geography Reference
In-Depth Information
struction would begin on the Xayaburi Dam in the country's northern region, a project long
opposed by other MRC states over fears that it would be the first “domino” to fall. These
fears proved justified when in 2013 Laos officials announced the beginning of construc-
tion on the Don Sahong Dam, a run-of-the-riven facility near the Cambodian border. River-
basin planning documents point to at least eleven potential projects on the Mekong's main
stem and more than one hundred on its extensive tributary system; most of the projects en-
Ngo 2012).
The Thai anthropologist Santasombat Yos, who has written extensively on the economic
and cultural importance of natural resources in the Mekong Region, suggests that Chinese
dams in the upper watershed constitute a new form of “transnational enclosure,” which he
defines as “an increasingly centralized decision-making process which enables the state
and commercial interests to gain control of territories that have traditionally been used and
cherished by local peoples in the Mekong Basin, transforming these areas into expendable
resources for exploitation” (2011:8).
This enclosure process is part of the business of statemaking insofar as it represents the
appropriation of resources from peripheral areas and the concentration of political and eco-
nomic power. It underscores the facts that river-basin sustainability may be threatened by
environmental factors such as drought, but that these natural processes are greatly exacer-
bated by anthropogenic and institutional factors including population growth, infrastructur-
al development projects, and, most crucially, an institutional capacity that is too weak to
foster positive change (A. Wolf 2009). During the MRC delegation meetings in the United
States, the delegate from Thailand pointed out that in the absence of multilateral coopera-
tion between governments, the role of civil society becomes even more important: “There
are different groups—academics, local people, NGOs. We work together. I don't believe
the state itself can solve these problems.”
In this sense, transboundary governance on the Mekong is a microcosm of an important
global issue: approximately 60 percent of the world's freshwater resources flow in 263 in-
ternational river basins (Wolf, Natharius, and Danielson 1999). Various international laws
and policies guide the governance of international rivers, including the Helsinki Rules on
the Uses of the Waters of International Rivers (International Law Association 1966), and
the Law of Non-Navigational Uses of International Watercourses (UN General Assembly
1997). Both of these statutes call for “equitable and reasonable” use of water by ripari-
an nations, each balancing its own rights against its obligations to neighboring countries.
Chinese scholars actively advocate for better upholding of these statutes by sharing data,
collaborating with international bodies such as the MRC, and even involving neutral third
parties in arbitration when necessary (Feng, He, and Bao 2004). 10
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