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World News

Mekong River Commission urges China to work with it on data-sharing

FILE PHOTO: A fisherman is seen on the Mekong river bank outside Nong Khai, Thailand January 10, 2020. REUTERS/Soe Zeya Tun/File Photo

BANGKOK (Reuters) - A Mekong River advisory body urged China on Tuesday to work with its experts in sharing year-round data on the lifeline waterway for the first time, rather than Beijing keeping a separate platform under its own new Mekong organisation.

Control of the waters is politically sensitive, and many farmers’ and fishermen’s livelihoods depend on the river. A report by a U.S. research company this year accused China of holding back large amounts of water during a drought last year, a finding Beijing disputed.

Tuesday’s statement by the Mekong River Commission, which groups Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, and Vietnam, followed an assurance by China to share more water management data from its portion of the river with Southeast Asian nations, although details of its pledge were not immediately clear.

“Any future data and information to be shared by the MRC member countries under the LMC framework should be developed in close collaboration with the MRC secretariat so that we can connect the two platforms effectively,” said a secretariat official, An Pich Hatda.

He was referring to the Lancang Mekong Cooperation (LMC) framework for development of the river that includes China and five Southeast Asian nations, which held an online conference on Monday.

China has no water treaties with the lower Mekong countries and only shares limited data during the monsoon season on flows on the upper stretch of what it calls the Lancang River.

Two years of record drought on the 4,350-km (2,700-mile) Mekong have been devastating for many of the 60 million people whose livelihoods depend on it.

Management of the Mekong has become another front in the battle for influence between China and the United States.

The U.S. ambassador to Thailand has described China as setting up the LMC as a way to sideline the MRC and set the agenda on developing the waterway, a charge that Beijing denies.

Reporting by Kay Johnson, Writing by Chayut Setboonsarng

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