On April 19, the four country members of the Mekong River Commission (MRC) met to consult on Thai company Ch Karnchang’s proposal to build a 1,260MW dam in Xayaburi province on the mainstream of the Mekong River in Laos. The dam would be financed by Thai banks and sell most of its power to consumers in Thailand. At the meeting, members of the MRC Joint Committee, made up of senior officials from Cambodia, Laos, Thailand and Vietnam, agreed to disagree and to elevate the decision to the Ministerial Council level.
Messy and inconclusive though the interim outcome on the Xayaburi dam may seem, it nevertheless carries considerable significance for the way in which river policy decisions are conducted in the Mekong. It reflects a maturing of the relationship between the four riparian countries, and it represents a tentative step toward a much more inclusive and informed process of decision-making and influence around the all-important question of the Mekong’s future as a flowing river or a stepped series of lakes.