BANGKOK – U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has criticized China’s dam-building on the Mekong River.
Environmentalists have called the dam building irresponsible and a total disregard for the lower Mekong Countries.
Saying the construction had left the lower Mekong River countries with the lowest levels of water in more than a decade.
Pompeo said ministers of the Lower Mekong Initiative countries, complained of drought caused in part by China’s upstream dams on the river.
Lower Mekong Drought
“The Mekong river is at its lowest levels in a decade, a problem linked to China’s decision to shut off water upstream,” Pompeo told Reuters.
Drought in Thailand, the host for this week’s meeting of ministers from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and others, including China and the United States, has led to the government asking farmers to delay planting rice.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo also pledged the United States’ unwavering support for the Asean Outlook on the Indo-Pacific which was announced during the 34th Asean Summit in Bangkok in June.
He also affirmed the US’ commitment to Asean centrality under President Donald Trump’s leadership.
Thailand, as chair of Asean, is hosting the 52nd Asean Ministerial Meeting, Post Ministerial Conferences and related meetings which run until tomorrow.
It’s being attended by foreign ministers from more than 30 countries.
Mr Pompeo stressed the US is not asking Indo-Pacific nations to choose between countries.
“Our engagement in this region has not been and will never be a zero-sum game. Our interest simply converges with yours for mutual benefits,” he said.
However, the US secretary of state urged Indo-Pacific partners to uphold the rules-based order.
Mr Pompeo called on countries to protect their sovereignty against China’s militarization.
South China Sea
Mr Pompeo also expressed concerns about Chinese coercion in the South China Sea (SCS) and the Rohingya crisis.
“I told [Thai] Foreign Minister Don [Pramudwinai] that our Indo-Pacific partners must speak out against Chinese coercion in the SCS and advocate the voluntary and dignified return of the Rohingya to their homeland,” he said.
Mr Pompeo also briefly recounted the encounter with State Councillor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi.
“My Chinese counterpart is always professional. We are both aiming to achieve similar objectives of making the relations between our two countries successful. While we are here, we will wrap up trade negotiations,” he said.
On Wednesday, at the China-Asean meeting, Mr Wang announced that Asean and China had completed the first reading of the Single Draft Negotiating Text of the Code of Conduct (CoC) for the SCS.
Talks on North Korea
Mr Pompeo also touched on the diplomatic sanctions of North Korea.
“We stand ready to continue a diplomatic conversation with North Korea. I look forward to the chance to reconnect with it formally and diplomatically,” he said.
At one point, Mr Pompeo, who also met ministers of the Lower Mekong Initiative countries, said the lowest level of water in the Mekong in over a decade was a result of China’s decision to shut off water upstream.
On Wednesday, Mr Wang said China did not cause the drought in the Asean region.
Instead, he said that China had released more water from its dams than usual to mitigate the drought problem downstream.
Moreover, Mr Pompeo also congratulated Thailand for its royal coronation and return to a civilian government, marking an end to five years of military rule.
“It is a big step in the right direction. We hope the momentum of the participating government will continue,” he said.
Lao Foreign Minister Saleumxay Kommasith said Asean and the US are partners with a shared vision for peace, stability and security in the region.
“Both sides … are committed to strengthening a broad spectrum of areas for mutual benefits,” he said.
He added Asean welcomes the US’ keen interest in expanding its engagement in areas of mutual interest, such as smart cities, cybersecurity, and energy.
Meanwhile, Foreign Ministry spokeswoman, Busadee Santipitaks, said Asean and the US will forge closer ties through a continued strategic partnership.
She said the bloc and the US are taking note of the progress in the implementation of the plan of action for the 2016-2020 Asean-US Strategic Partnership.