China’s Hydro-Hegemony and the United States in the Mekong River basin

Kensaku AMANO, Yamato University


The Mekong River basin has seen significant conflict between China and the United States (US). Since the Indochina War, Southeast Asian countries have increased their unity, but China, whose territory includes the upstream area of the Mekong River, has built multiple dams on the river, causing friction with the countries that lie below it. China’s actions have been criticized as demonstrations of hydro-hegemony due to its unilateral development along the river. But in recent years, it has entered talks with the Mekong River Commission, composed of the downstream countries, and is providing hydrological data, indicating towards a more cooperative attitude. As China began to build relations with the basin countries, taking advantage of this relaxation of friction, it advanced into the Mekong River basin, although the United States appeared to curtail such movement, and is seeking to strengthen its relations with the other countries that share the Mekong basin. This paper describes the progress of China’s relationship with the countries of the Mekong River basin in the context of the official administration strategy headed by Obama (rebalancing to Asia), Trump (America First), and Biden (an internationalism). It presents disputes over water resources from the perspective of non-traditional security in the absence of military power. The Mekong River was referred to as the River of War during the Vietnam War, and later, it became a cooperation area in which various international organizations were working peacefully. If the Sino-US conflict deepens, it could revert to this previous identity, propelling us to keep an eye on the future.

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