Bankok Post –
As Vietnam is poised to take over the rotational chair of Asean in January 2020, its second foremost foreign policy priority after the South China Sea is reportedly the Mekong River region. While the South China Sea, where more than one third of global shipping passes, is considered an overall Asean concern, the Mekong region is left to the five riparian countries in mainland Southeast Asia to deal with in view of China’s upstream hydropower dams that have led to frequent droughts and depleted fish stocks in downstream communities, especially in Cambodia and Vietnam.
If Vietnam as Asean chair has its way, the Mekong may soon become an Asean matter, so providing the five riparian countries more leverage in grappling with China’s unilateral hogging of water in the upper reaches of the river. In turn, if Asean can rally together behind both the South China Sea and the Mekong River, the 10-member regional organisation would have more bargaining power vis-à-vis China, especially if it can enlist other major players such as Japan and the United States to be involved.