WASHINGTON: Ambassador Atul Keshap, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs addressed the Indo-Pacific conference on Strengthening Transboundary River Governance on Saturday.
During his address, the diplomat commented on the launch of conference report stating that this report is excellent and summarizes our work examining the challenges facing the Mekong River basin and its ties to the economies, livelihoods, and culture of nearly 70 million people.
Regarding China, he further mentioned that, we remain concerned just as we were in October during the conference—that record droughts and the upstream dams in China that exacerbate them are hurting the communities and ecosystems that have relied for countless generations on the Mekong River’s natural flood pulse.
There are dramatic consequences for food security, economic development, and the environment, the diplomat mentioned.
It’s clear that upstream dams are withholding water with limited coordination or notification, unnecessarily exacerbating the water security challenges that Mekong communities are facing, he said.
Highlighting the Mekong River Commission (MRC), he stating that last week MRC again issued calls for China to share timely and essential water data. This was in response to what the MRC called recent “worrying” drops in Mekong River water levels, he said.
The diplomat remarked that the MRC statement cited Beijing’s agreement in 2020 to share year-round water level and rainfall data and to notify the MRC of any abnormal rise or fall in water levels. It’s clear that the PRC has not lived up to this commitment, he said.
Regarding the report, diplomat commented that the conference report will serve as an important resource guiding our efforts to improve transparency and strengthening the communities and institutions responsible for protecting the Mekong River.
Underscoring the emerging global challenges he said, the nearly 70 million people that depend on the River have much to gain from transparent governance. Expanding economic growth and addressing climate change also require coordination and information sharing, he said.
The United States and our partners developed the Mekong Dam Monitor to better provide information on water usage. Upstream dam operators need to be more transparent and consultative with downstream neighbors, the diplomat commented.
Stronger governance, institutions, and mechanisms are needed to support regional cooperation in the Mekong.
The United States has supported the Mekong River Commission for decades and remains committed to sharing our expertise and working with you to preserve the autonomy of the Mekong region, he said.
Perhaps most significantly, this report emphasizes the importance of including all stakeholders in river management, the diplomat commented. This requires moving beyond just government bodies and the MRC to include civil society in the decision-making process, he said.
Moreover, the diplomat stated that the United States is committed to following through on the ideas discussed at the conference and in this report. We support the people of the Mekong and the future of the Mekong River.
Since 2009, the United States has invested over $3.5 billion of assistance in the countries of the Mekong, including, $1.2 billion for health programs, $734 million for economic growth, $616 million for peace and security, $527 million for human rights and governance, $175 million for education and social services and $165 million for humanitarian assistance.
He further added that last year, we launched the Mekong-U.S. Partnership to broaden, deepen, and better resource our collaboration.
Through the Mekong-U.S. Partnership, the United States is partnering with Cambodia, Laos, Burma, Thailand and Vietnam on solutions to emerging challenges, including transboundary resource management, regional economic connectivity and human resources development, and non-traditional security issues like health security, and narcotics, weapons, wildlife and human trafficking.
Regarding MRC he said, we are strengthening our long-standing support for the MRC, guided by principles of transparency, inclusivity, good governance, and respect for autonomy and international law. He also expressed commitment to work under Mekong Water Data Initiative to improve water data sharing, including support for the Mekong Dam Monitor.
He also remarked that U.S. is empowering the skill and talent of the people of the Mekong through programs like the new Young Southeast Asian Leaders Initiative Academy at Fulbright University Vietnam and Young Scientists Program.
Adding that U.S. is also supporting regional organizations like ACMECS and the efforts of partners like Japan, South Korea, Australia, India and countries in EU to support sustainable development and share global best practices.
These efforts are collaborative and inclusive and follow the helpful efforts of countries like Vietnam to raise the profile of Mekong issues within ASEAN, he added.
The diplomat further commented that we encourage ASEAN to regard the Mekong River basin as being as important to unity and prosperity as the issues in the maritime domain.
Finally, our work would be incomplete without the efforts of local media reporting on the value of the river and the effects of unsustainable practices. We applaud the tireless efforts of civil society advocates that strive for transparency, sustainability, and accountability, he concluded.