US officials announced a $150 million investment into a partnership with countries along the Mekong River, the longest river in Southeast Asia and stretching across multiple borders including China’s. Beijing experts have reacted furiously to the announcement, and accused the US of attempting to politicise water resources to curb China’s influence in the region. It is the latest flashpoint of tension between Washington and Beijing, who have clashed over territories such as the South China Sea and Hong Kong.
Mike Pompeo, US Secretary of State, announced the Mekong-US coalition includes countries like Cambodia, Vietnam, Thailand and Myanmar on Friday.
The official said the US will be working closely with Southeast Asian countries as the Mekong river is “an integral part of out Indo-Pacific vision and our strategic relationship with” the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.
But Mr Pompeo also targeted China when announcing the million dollar coalition, and accused Beijing of “increasingly threatening the Mekong’s natural environment and economic autonomy”.
He added in an August tweet China was “manipulating flows in a non-transparent manner” through unsafe dams.
In 2019, US experts also claimed Chinese hydroelectric dams exacerbated the drought in other countries at the end of 2019.
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The Global Times, China’s leading state media outlet, has savaged the US’ involvement in the region.
Bi Shihong, professor at the Centre for China’s Neighbour Diplomacy Studies and School of International Studies of Yunnan University, said to the outlet the US was lying about the damage to the region, and were only involved in Mekong for political reasons.
He said: “Many of those self-proclaimed US researchers did not even conduct field work in the Mekong basin before drawing their ‘conclusions’.
“The reports of those institutions are less scientifically valuable, and member countries usually review the conclusions independently with more caution.”
Mr Pompeo’s partnership with Southeast Asian countries is the latest US intervention over the Mekong.
David Stillwell, assistant Secretary of State, savaged Beijing for environmental damage caused to the river.
He accused Beijing of using its 11 dams at the upper reaches of the river to withhold water “for its profit” and claimed it was “at great cost to downstream nations”.
A US ambassador for Vietnam also accused China of “hoarding” water from the river.
The Mekong river partnership follows escalating military drills in the South China Sea, after the US disputed Beijing’s claim of “sovereignty” over the waters.
At the end of August, China took the brazen step of firing two missiles into the sea in a clear warning to the US.
It followed a US spy plane flying over a live-fire drill for the Chinese navy.
Mr Pompeo said in July China’s claim of South China Sea resources are “completely unlawful, as is its campaign of bullying to control them”.
US President Donald Trump has also ramped up attacks against Beijing this year.
Mr Trump has slapped sanctions on a series of Chinese businesses and officials for a range of issues, including the Hong Kong security law and national security risks from Huawei and TikTok.
Last week, the US President vowed to end the US’ reliance on Chinese exports and said: “If we didn’t do business with them, we wouldn’t lose billions of dollars.
“It’s called decoupling. So you’ll start thinking about it.
“You’ll start thinking they take our money and they spend it on building aeroplanes and building ships and building rockets and missiles.”