Communities Oppose Upper Mekong Navigation

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Transbordernews
9 January 2017

Chiang Khong: Local communities, activists, and youths rose up in expelling Chinese surveying ship to explode Mekong islets, showing message to Chinese government. “Choonhavan” suggested the government reconsider the cabinet resolution to avoid drastic impacts. The vice president of Chiang Rai Chamber of Commerce pointed it was pointless and likely to cause harm to the local’s small boats.

At 14.30 on the 8th January, 2017, while a Chinese surveying ship was reaching Pa Kon Kam rapids, Chiang Khong District, Chiang Rai, from its survey in Mekong River in Oudomxay Province, Laos, and continuing the mission in Thai border, a band of conservationists and youngsters in Chiang Khong in three boats followed a group of the ship showing signs in Chinese, Thai and English expressing protest against exploding the islets, for example “Stop blowing up Mekong islets.”, “Mekong is a natural heritage.” and “We love Mekong.” The attempt took about 20 minutes as a speedboat of MRU Navy escorted around.

The president of Chiang Khong Conservation Group, Mr Niwat Roikaew, stated that this activity is to protest projects to survey and blow up islets in Mekong River. The purpose is to notify Chinese government the local’s opposition. This was the first active movement which would be more vigorous if China still operated the project to explode the islets.

Meanwhile, Mr Kraisak Choonhavan, a son of former prime minister Chatichai Choonhavan and a former senator from Nakhon Ratchasima, gave an interview that he wanted the government to reconsider the cabinet resolution on Maritime Transport Development Plan on the Lancang – Mekong River, a frame work to develop international navy transportation in the Lancang – Mekong River and Mekong survey project of China, in which sectors are concerning about its potential plans to explode islets in the river. All of the plans to explode islets to develop Chinese shipping route should be declined as they severely affected ecosystem and the local’s life.

He added that in the past 10 years, the government led by prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra rejected the propose to survey and explode islets in Mekong River posting two main reasons that; 1) It, especially blowing up islets – Mekong’s fish breeding, permanently destroyed and damaged ecosystem and environment, and 2) It altered deep channels and caused violation on the country’s territory based on territorial agreement between Thai and France which specified deep channel a borderline. Nowadays there are still no acute studies on the deep channel as it always alters, specifically at the river curves, in terms of season changes. Therefore, blowing up islets must result in river – channel change.

“This cabinet resolution is agreed by some government authorities and a few benefited people. Why didn’t they consider the reasons stated in the former rejection? Even that merchant government did not dare permitting such a project, but this government, which composes of barely any business persons but high – ranked government agents with ethic, in turn, passed this such solution.”, criticized Choonhavan.

He claimed that Mekong River is a world – class fishery area, on which more than 8 millions rely. The majority of the fish need to migrate in order to feed, breed, and grow. Yearly, more than 2 million tons of fish are harvested, a larger number than that of those harvested from the seas in countries nearby. To destroy islets in Mekong River is considered to destroy the prosperity in this regard. That worsens the severe condition in the ecosystem effected from the dams, constructed by coordination of Thailand and China.

“Another to concern is that at present we have no barrier to protect ourselves from menace which may occur through Mekong River, especially in economic aspect that we allow goods from China to pass thought under inspection. In fact, we have 4-5 ports, but only one of those is a fiscal point. Smuggled goods are left flowing into Thailand.”, said Mr Choonhavan.
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The vice president of Chiang Rai Chamber of Commerce, Mrs Phakaimas Viera, claimed that initially China might only want study a shipping root. Thai government should be clear in which extent its policy could be. However, she pointed her wonder why China did not explode several problematic islets on the upper part on Mekong River while they explore the area between Chiang Saen and Laung Prabang, where presently there are barely big vessels to reach Chiang Khong. Instead, there are commercial ships of which tonnage are gross 200-300 tons. It is uncertain why the islets is to be exploded to open the route for those of which tonnage are 500 tons while transportation to Laung Prabang is also possible using the rail line, whose construction is under gone.

Mrs. Pakamas added that presently there are several ports available, especially in Chiang Saen. If China turns to 500-ton ships, it is possible that in the future they will not dock at Chiang Sean’s ports. Thai government should discuss with China in this regard of benefit we would have from this.

“Personally, I think it is no need to explode islets to clear the passage for 500 – ton vessels because nowadays in flooding season a big ship can reach Chiang Khong easily. Moreover, this has no advantage on tourism, either as water draught of touring ships is only 80 centimeters. Then, it does not matter whether the islets are blown up. In the contrary, if big ships are permitted, safety of smaller folk boats will be affected as they could be hit by huge waves from vessels.” claimed Mrs. Viera.

Mr. Apisom Intaralawan, a researcher of the Institute for the Study of Natural Resources and Environmental Management, Mae Fah Lauang University, Chiangrai, said that the explosion of Mekong River’s islets surly affects the ecosystem like a construction of a dam that increases sediments in the river and, as a result, decrees the number of the fish. Therefore, we should find any better possible alternatives.

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