Silk Road push may founder on Mekong River row

New Straits Times - - Business -

KHON PI LONG (Thai­land): China’s plan to blast open more of the Mekong River for bigger cargo ships could founder on a re­mote out­crop of half-sub­merged rocks that Thai pro­test­ers have vowed to pro­tect against Bei­jing’s eco­nomic ex­pan­sion in South­east Asia.

Dy­na­mit­ing the Pi Long rapids and other sec­tions of the Mekong be­tween Thai­land and Laos will harm the en­vi­ron­ment and bring trade ad­van­tages only to China, the pro­test­ers say.

“This will be the death of the Mekong,” said Ni­wat Roykaew, chair­man of the Rak Chi­ang Khong Con­ser­va­tion Group, which is cam­paign­ing against the project. “You’ll never be able to re­vive it.”

Ni­wat said blast­ing the Mekong will de­stroy fish breed­ing grounds, dis­rupt mi­grat­ing birds and cause in­creased wa­ter flow that will erode river­side farm­land.

Such op­po­si­tion re­flects a wider chal­lenge to China’s am­bi­tious “One Belt, One Road” project to build a mod­ern-day Silk Road through Asia to Europe.

Sec­ond Har­bour Con­sul­tants, a sub­sidiary of state-owned be­he­moth China Com­mu­ni­ca­tions Con­struc­tion Corp said it was sur­vey­ing the Mekong for a re­port that China, Laos, Myan­mar and Thai­land would use to de­cide whether blast­ing should go ahead.

It added that it was not tasked with the blast­ing work, which would need to be ten­dered.

Clear­ing the Mekong for bigger ships is not of­fi­cially a part of One Belt, One Road, a project an­nounced in 2013; China blasted sec­tions of the river in Laos sev­eral years ear­lier.

But some Chi­nese en­gi­neers in­volved in the sur­vey speak of it as a part of the broader plan, and it is con­sis­tent with Bei­jing’s Silk Road ob­jec­tives. Reuters

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