China and the Geopolitics of the Mekong River Basin
Two decades after the Paris Peace Accord that ended the proxy war in Cambodia, the Mekong Basin has re-emerged as a region of global significance. The rapid infrastructure-led integration of a region some call “Asia’s last frontier” has created tensions between and among China and its five southern neighbors — Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand and Vietnam. Both expanded regional cooperation as well as increased competition for access to the rich resources of the once war-torn region have created serious environmental degradation while endangering food security and other dimensions of human security, and even regional stability.
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Beijing’s ambitions for China-led economic integration in the Mekong River Basin have encountered several setbacks in recent months, highlighting the limits to China’s ability to use its economic power and control over the headwaters of the Mekong to its geopolitical advantage. In particular, Beijing’s plan to expand the navigational potential of Mekong ports in southern Yunnan province to as far south as Luang Prabang, Laos, has been called into question by recent security developments on the river.
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