Rebutting US Claims, China Says Dams Unrelated to Thai Drought

A Dec. 27, 2016, file photo shows a low water level in the Mekong River in Thailand.
A Dec. 27, 2016, file photo shows a low water level in the Mekong River in Thailand.

BANGKOK — The Chinese Embassy in Bangkok on Monday dismissed a US-funded study accusing China’s dams of hoarding water in the vital Mekong River.

In a statement released to Khaosod English, the embassy said the extreme drought felt by Mekong’s downstream countries in 2019 were caused by exceptionally low rainfalls and arid temperature, and not the dams China built in its section of the Mekong, known locally as the Lancang River.

“The research by Eyes on Earth Inc. did not consider precipitation levels and complication of water flows. It does not reflect hydrological realities,” it said. “Their results are mostly calculated trends, not the actual water flows on the long term.”

The statement cited a study by the intergovernmental Mekong River Commission, which blames abnormalities in the Mekong on the El Nino phenomenon.


Last year’s drought was the driest in more than a century. A group of researchers working for a United States organization said satellite observations showed China’s Yunnan province to be slightly wetter than the downstream countries.

Read: US Study Insists China’s Dams to Blame For Mekong Drought

The observations led the researchers to conclude that China-controlled dams upstream affected the water flow; they also reported that the dams were completely filled at the time of Thailand’s drought.

But the embassy said satellite findings are “highly inaccurate” since they do not consider other parameters, such as precipitation levels and water levels.

“The research should be reviewed by independent reviewers to ensure quality of the work,” the document wrote. “As mentioned earlier, their scientific evidence is still inadequate for the conclusion of their study.”

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A man fishes in the Mekong River in Nong Khai province on Oct. 28, 2019, during a drought.

The embassy’s commentary echoed previous remarks by Chinese officials, who often cited assessments by the Mekong River Commission in their defense against the U.S. study.

The Commission was established in 1995 under the Mekong Agreement between four countries in the lower Mekong River basin. Although China is not a member of the agency, many critics suspect it was not spared from China’s immense leverage in the region.

The efforts to pinpoint the blames for Thailand’s historic drought also coincided with an escalation in diplomatic rifts between China and the U.S., both of whom have staked their claims of influence in Thailand and its neighbors.