BANGKOK — PM Prayut Chan-o-cha is set to attend a summit on Mekong River with China and five other riparian countries next week, the foreign ministry said Friday.
The 3rd Mekong-Lancang Cooperation Summit will be held entirely online on Monday due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, ministry diplomat Nikorndej Balankura told reporters at a news conference. The meeting will focus on water management in the wake of allegations that China was restricting water flow to downriver countries.
“We welcome China’s initiatives,” Nikorndej said. “China has expressed its political will to tackle the problems.”
He said Thailand will propose a new database to monitor water level and quality in the Mekong, in order to promote transparency in information.
The Chinese side will be expected to accede to a proposal to enhance economic and public health cooperation with downstream countries, Nikorndej added.
Several reports accused China of using its upstream dam to control the flow of the Mekong, known in Chinese as the Lancang, which resulted in severe drought in Thailand.
A report published earlier this year by the U.S.-funded Stimson Center said China’s dam management is causing erratic and devastating changes in water levels down stream.
“New data shows that during a severe drought in the lower Mekong Basin in 2019, China’s upper basin enjoyed high rainfall and snowmelt and China’s upstream dams restricted nearly all of the record rainfall and snowmelt from the downstream, part of the report said.
The Chinese Embassy in Bangkok has vehemently denied the allegations and said climate conditions like the El Nino were responsible for the drought.
The Reclusive Minister?
A spokesman for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs also dismissed a media report that minister Don Pramudwinai refused to meet with Western diplomats in recent years.
The report on Thai Enquirer cited “11 diplomatic officials from 10 countries including members of the European Union, NATO treaty members and Oceania countries.”
The article said Don, who also serves as the Deputy PM, preferred to hold discussions with diplomats from Russia, China, North Korea “and other countries more sympathetic to the Thai political situation.”
But spokesman Cherdkiat Atthakor said the allegation is unfounded.
“It’s not true,” Cherdkiat said. “We still meet diplomats from the other countries. The FM’s schedule is extremely busy during this pandemic time, but he is open for discussion with diplomatic representatives, including Western diplomats, on substantive issues and if time permits.”
Don, a seasoned career diplomat, was appointed to the post by the junta in 2015. He has since continued to hold the position after the 2019 elections and the recent Cabinet reshuffle.
Thai Enquirer, a news agency known for its anti-China editorial slant, also cited an anonymous Western diplomat as saying that her embassy was denied a discussion with Don on at least five separate occasions.
“Don has simply refused to meet with us,” the diplomat told Thai Enquirer.
An online search of public records finds that although Don often met European government officials on his overseas trips, he rarely held talks with Western diplomats based in Thailand. He received the French ambassador in late July, but the discussion was a mandatory courtesy call for the ambassador’s departure.
Ministry reports also said Don has met with South Korean and Japanese diplomats in recent years.
The foreign ministry spokesman did say the minister tends to hold more talks with diplomats from China or other Asian countries, but he does so because there are a lot of issues concerning Thailand.
“If there’s an important issue to be discussed, then we can always meet,” Cherdkiat said.