Here’s a subtle but significant point from historian and Southeast Asia specialist Milton Osborne. Senior Vietnamese officials, he writes, “are now ready to make sharp criticisms of the Lao government’s plans to construct a dam at Xayaburi”.
Xayaburi (there are multiple spellings) is a province in northern Laos that isn’t exactly on the usual tourist trail. But it will become increasingly important in the coming months. Laos has proposed a hydropower dam in the province on the Mekong River (the above picture was snapped along the Mekong about 100 km north). It’s also the first dam project on the mainstream of the Lower Mekong that any of the Mekong countries have submitted under the multilateral approval process overseen by the Mekong River Commission.
Up until now, Osborne notes, Vietnamese officials have been reluctant to criticize the project, which has alarmed environmentalists and others across the region. Vietnam, after all, is no stranger to ramming through its own controversial hydropower projects, and Asean members are reluctant to criticize each other. But it appears some Vietnamese officials are starting to come out strongly against the project in state-connected media.
It’s an early sign, Osborne says, that the issue of dams will be the significant source of dispute among Mekong nations for years to come.