US claims China’s ‘manipulation’ of Mekong is ‘urgent challenge’ for Southeast Asia

US claims China’s ‘manipulation’ of Mekong is ‘urgent challenge’ for Southeast Asia

A senior US diplomat on Thursday said China’s “manipulation” of water flows in the Mekong River – currently at record lows – was an immediate challenge to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, signalling the issue could be on the agenda in a regional forum next week.

The comments by David Stilwell, the assistant secretary of state for East Asia and the Pacific, are the latest evidence that the 4,350km river, on which 60 million Southeast Asians depend, has become a new front in the US-China rivalry.

Amid heightened scrutiny of the issue, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang in late August told a China-led forum that included five downstream Southeast Asian countries that Beijing would begin sharing year-round hydrological data of the river, known as the Lancang on the mainland.

Stilwell, speaking in a webinar co-organised by the United States Institute of Peace and Singapore’s Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, said the water flow issue was among the “troubling trends” in the Mekong region.