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China Allegedly Ends Plans to Blast Rocky Outcrop of Mekong Islet in Chiang Rai

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CHIANG RAI – China has agreed to drop a plan to clear rocky outcrops and islets in the upper reaches of the Mekong River in Chiang Rai after facing of deep concern by downstream countries, according to Foreign Minister Don Pramudwinai.

The Foreign Minister said the issue was discussed and agreed during a visit to Bangkok last month by Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi, who accepted the concerns from Thailand, Laos and Myanmar about potential negative effects of the proposed blasting.

The plan to blast rapids in the upper reaches of the Mekong to allow for the smooth passage of large cargo vessels was previously approved by the countries concerned, including Thailand, in December 2016.

According to China, some 15 sections of the waterway in Thai territory hinder navigation. Vessels carrying cargo weighing more than 450 tonnes can sail through those areas at other times of year but not during the dry season.

“The blasts aimed at paving the way for big vessels would affect people’s way of life and also fish in the river,” he said.

“We proposed to China that it is unnecessary to blast the islets in the river and our Chinese counterpart accepted with a good understanding.”

Aside from the ecological effects, he said, blasting could also change the course of river that flows from China to the South China Sea, passing five Southeast Asian countries — possibly affecting borderlines.

In any case, Mr Pramudwinai said, there are now better ways to transport products from China into the Mekong countries, they can unload at two upstream piers in Chiang Saen district, making the blasting work unnecessary. Highway R3A was another option

In April three Chinese ships with a reported 60 engineers on board commenced a survey in Chiang Rai on under the direction of China’s CCCC Second Harbor Consultant Co Ltd, a subsidiary of state-owned conglomerate China Communications.

Public hearings were held in January in Chiang Rai on proposals by a Chinese-backed group to clear a passage along the river to allow 500-gross-tonne barges to pass.

A total of 13 spots along the river between Thailand and Laos were identified for navigation channel enlargement including dredging, drilling and blasting.