China's "adaptive approach to dialogue" in the Mekong Region

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This interview was originally posted on SUMERNET, the Sustainable Mekong Research Network. Please click here to read the full version.

At the recently concluded "2016 Greater Mekong Forum on Water, Food and Energy" held in Bangkok, SUMERNET talked to Prof. Lu Xing, Institute of Southeast Asia Studies, Yunnan University to obtain his insights into the working of the Lancang-Mekong Cooperation (LMC) Framework and China’s aspirations for greater dialogue and cooperation with downstream Mekong countries.

In November 2015, China initiated the Lancang-Mekong Cooperation (LMC) Framework for regional dialogue and cooperation involving China and the five other Mekong Basin countries.

Now exactly one year since its inception, there is still debate about the LMC’s aspirations, and whether it can help bring China and its Mekong neighbours closer together in the five priority areas: connectivity, production capacity, cross-border economic cooperation, water resources, agriculture and poverty reduction.

Meanwhile, it is not clear whether and how the LMC would help alleviate ongoing tensions between China and its downstream neighbours over controversial hydropower projects and water resources.

Q: In your view what is the LMC’s role and how is it fulfilling that role?

Prof. Lu Xing: The LMC was initiated with the aim of expanding dialogue among the Mekong Basin governments. In that respect, it is set up mainly for inter-governmental dialogue and meetings to discuss regional cooperation.  Now there is a need to open up the LMC for more dialogue beyond just the governments.

For example, our team in Yunnan University organised the LMC think-tank forum in October, and invited the Mekong country neighbours to talk about Lancang-Mekong cooperation. But unfortunately, most of the participants discussed mainly about the economic and political relations. I was the only person to talk about environmental and water issues.

The LMC welcomed our forum. But they want to see if such multiple stakeholder forums are useful. The usefulness of such forums is crucial for our government to consider its further engagement with wider stakeholders. These kinds of forums can help inform the Chinese government on the importance of multi-stakeholder engagement and provide different perspectives from other stakeholders. We will be inviting LMC officials to participate in such forums in the future. Academics and civil society across the Mekong region can really engage in this kind of process.

To read the rest of Prof. Lu Xing's discussion with SUMERNET, please click here.