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What's at stake in China's plan to blow up islands in the Mekong

But China's vision of Asian trade routes is not without its own bombs

Alan Marshall | The Conversation 

China, flag,
Photo: Shutterstock

It’s the largest freshwater fish in the world and, once upon a time, these fish swam the great lengths of the mighty River from southern China, through Burma, Laos, Thailand, and Cambodia, all the way to the river’s delta in Vietnam.

Now, there are maybe only a few hundred adult specimens still living, hidden in isolated deep pools in a few relatively undisturbed places along the river.

If you wish to catch a glimpse of one, the best bet is to cast your eyes about the murals of the Mekong’s resorts, restaurants and riverside temples, where they’re often painted in a serene satiny blue.

A painting of a Pla Beuk at a Thai temple. Xufanc/Wikimedia Commons

In folklore, pla beuk was once revered throughout the Mekong basin and those who sought to capture one for eating in days gone by would often perform special rituals and offerings before heading out to fish for it.

The traditional way to claim the life of a pla beuk was to go out in a wooden boat and throw a homemade spear or fibrous net laden with rocks at each corner. But now wants to kill them another away – with bombs.

“Who would bomb a catfish?” I expect you’re asking.

China’s expanding trade routes

On May 14, the Chinese Government launched its Silk Road Project to develop trade routes across the lands of Central Asia to Europe as well as sea routes across Asian seas.

But China’s vision of Asian trade routes is not without its own bombs. The company charged with developing a trade route along the River (the state-owned Chinese Communications Construction Company) is set to dynamite river islands on a 900-kilometre section of the river that passes from the Chinese province of Yunnan through to the river port of Luang Prabang in

On the other side of the Indochinese peninsula, in the South Sea, is building islands, but in the it wants to demolish islands in order to make the river more navigable. Proponents talk about the process as a “river improvement project”; a “gentling-out” of the to make it smooth and easy to handle – like the pla beuk, it might be said.

This section of the river has been navigable for decades for cargo boats carrying about 60 tonnes or more. These can safely pass between the Mekong’s islands if an experienced navigator is on board.

But is brandishing about the idea that larger boats mean more trade and more prosperity. And it plans to open up the Yunnan-to-Luang Prabang stretch of the Mekong to 500-tonne cargo barges.

This means hundreds of river islands in China, Burma, and have to be blasted away.

Route to environmental decay

While not officially part of the new Silk Road, the route is still part of China’s national goal of trade route expansion. But outside of that country, environmental groups such as Save the Mekong, International Rivers, the Burma Rivers Network are questioning the economic case for the to serve as an expanded trade route.

They’re suggesting that a smoothed out would only increase trade between and the nations by an insignificant amount. Many also suggest that the plan is mainly about getting access to the fast-growing Southeast Asian market for Yunnan’s agricultural products.

Right now, it takes two weeks for Yunnan producers to get their goods to a Chinese seaport and another week to get them to big city markets in Indochina. The trade route is touted as being able to do all this within a few days.

Despite the bigger boats and the faster travel times, the economic impetus may be less important to than political drivers. China will be lending money and providing credit lines – to the tune of US$10 billion – to the various nations. And it can leverage this debt to push forward with its own interests in the region.

If the river islands do get blasted away, a whole range of environmental consequences may cascade for hundreds of kilometres. The river may travel faster in parts, eroding riverside farms and conservation zones. It may also end up travelling slower in other parts; lowering water levels and changing the quantity and quality of sediment that will flow downstream.

The impact of this changing water flow on food and water security has not yet been calculated — if it ever could be — but the risks are enormous.

The Mekong, with its nutrient-rich sediment, is crucial for growing rice. It’s also home to hundreds of species of edible fish. For tens of millions of people in the basin, including millions of fisherfolk who live at near-subsistence level, fish and rice constitute their daily diet.

It may be shortsighted to gamble with this invaluable resource just to effect a slight increase in trade figures. And this kind of threat to their livelihood recently pushed fishing communities to take to their riverboats in protest.

What’s more, business people in Burma, and might look forward to increased trade between their nations but they may find themselves squeezed out of their local economy if they’re undercut by cheap goods flowing down the river from

Rock or an island?

Then, there’s the catfish. Those who seek to “smooth-out” the generally refer to the river islands as rocks. But these “rocks” are far from lifeless.

Many are vegetated, some with trees, and their presence in the river creates a range of pools, shoals, bars, shallows, and waterfalls, perfect for breeding countless varieties of fish, including pla beuk.

When pla beuk are young – and “ugly-cute” with prominent their whiskers – they hang around these sorts of places as they shelter from predators, feed on algae, and slowly grow. Destruction of these river islands and rocky outcrops would probably lead to the demise of juvenile fish.

At the moment, the River is known to be the most biodiverse river in the world — after the Amazon. But if the river islands are bombed away and if the riverscape is engineered into something more like a large artificial canal, then endangered species, including pla beuk, face extinction.

The Conversation logo

Alas, even if the river islands are left in peace, the fish of the face another attack from China: dams. Chinese dams have all but stopped fish migration in the upper reaches of the yet many more dams are being built every year.

If you are a fish, having your island birthplace blasted away with dynamite might seem pretty rough. But coming across a new dam is like a nuclear bomb going off.


Alan Marshall, Lecturer in Environmental Social Sciences, Faculty of Social Sciences and Humanities, Mahidol University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

The Conversation

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What's at stake in China's plan to blow up islands in the Mekong

But China's vision of Asian trade routes is not without its own bombs

But China's vision of Asian trade routes is not without its own bombs

It’s the largest freshwater fish in the world and, once upon a time, these fish swam the great lengths of the mighty River from southern China, through Burma, Laos, Thailand, and Cambodia, all the way to the river’s delta in Vietnam.

Now, there are maybe only a few hundred adult specimens still living, hidden in isolated deep pools in a few relatively undisturbed places along the river.

If you wish to catch a glimpse of one, the best bet is to cast your eyes about the murals of the Mekong’s resorts, restaurants and riverside temples, where they’re often painted in a serene satiny blue.

A painting of a Pla Beuk at a Thai temple. Xufanc/Wikimedia Commons

In folklore, pla beuk was once revered throughout the Mekong basin and those who sought to capture one for eating in days gone by would often perform special rituals and offerings before heading out to fish for it.

The traditional way to claim the life of a pla beuk was to go out in a wooden boat and throw a homemade spear or fibrous net laden with rocks at each corner. But now wants to kill them another away – with bombs.

“Who would bomb a catfish?” I expect you’re asking.

China’s expanding trade routes

On May 14, the Chinese Government launched its Silk Road Project to develop trade routes across the lands of Central Asia to Europe as well as sea routes across Asian seas.

But China’s vision of Asian trade routes is not without its own bombs. The company charged with developing a trade route along the River (the state-owned Chinese Communications Construction Company) is set to dynamite river islands on a 900-kilometre section of the river that passes from the Chinese province of Yunnan through to the river port of Luang Prabang in

On the other side of the Indochinese peninsula, in the South Sea, is building islands, but in the it wants to demolish islands in order to make the river more navigable. Proponents talk about the process as a “river improvement project”; a “gentling-out” of the to make it smooth and easy to handle – like the pla beuk, it might be said.

This section of the river has been navigable for decades for cargo boats carrying about 60 tonnes or more. These can safely pass between the Mekong’s islands if an experienced navigator is on board.

But is brandishing about the idea that larger boats mean more trade and more prosperity. And it plans to open up the Yunnan-to-Luang Prabang stretch of the Mekong to 500-tonne cargo barges.

This means hundreds of river islands in China, Burma, and have to be blasted away.

Route to environmental decay

While not officially part of the new Silk Road, the route is still part of China’s national goal of trade route expansion. But outside of that country, environmental groups such as Save the Mekong, International Rivers, the Burma Rivers Network are questioning the economic case for the to serve as an expanded trade route.

They’re suggesting that a smoothed out would only increase trade between and the nations by an insignificant amount. Many also suggest that the plan is mainly about getting access to the fast-growing Southeast Asian market for Yunnan’s agricultural products.

Right now, it takes two weeks for Yunnan producers to get their goods to a Chinese seaport and another week to get them to big city markets in Indochina. The trade route is touted as being able to do all this within a few days.

Despite the bigger boats and the faster travel times, the economic impetus may be less important to than political drivers. China will be lending money and providing credit lines – to the tune of US$10 billion – to the various nations. And it can leverage this debt to push forward with its own interests in the region.

If the river islands do get blasted away, a whole range of environmental consequences may cascade for hundreds of kilometres. The river may travel faster in parts, eroding riverside farms and conservation zones. It may also end up travelling slower in other parts; lowering water levels and changing the quantity and quality of sediment that will flow downstream.

The impact of this changing water flow on food and water security has not yet been calculated — if it ever could be — but the risks are enormous.

The Mekong, with its nutrient-rich sediment, is crucial for growing rice. It’s also home to hundreds of species of edible fish. For tens of millions of people in the basin, including millions of fisherfolk who live at near-subsistence level, fish and rice constitute their daily diet.

It may be shortsighted to gamble with this invaluable resource just to effect a slight increase in trade figures. And this kind of threat to their livelihood recently pushed fishing communities to take to their riverboats in protest.

What’s more, business people in Burma, and might look forward to increased trade between their nations but they may find themselves squeezed out of their local economy if they’re undercut by cheap goods flowing down the river from

Rock or an island?

Then, there’s the catfish. Those who seek to “smooth-out” the generally refer to the river islands as rocks. But these “rocks” are far from lifeless.

Many are vegetated, some with trees, and their presence in the river creates a range of pools, shoals, bars, shallows, and waterfalls, perfect for breeding countless varieties of fish, including pla beuk.

When pla beuk are young – and “ugly-cute” with prominent their whiskers – they hang around these sorts of places as they shelter from predators, feed on algae, and slowly grow. Destruction of these river islands and rocky outcrops would probably lead to the demise of juvenile fish.

At the moment, the River is known to be the most biodiverse river in the world — after the Amazon. But if the river islands are bombed away and if the riverscape is engineered into something more like a large artificial canal, then endangered species, including pla beuk, face extinction.

The Conversation logo

Alas, even if the river islands are left in peace, the fish of the face another attack from China: dams. Chinese dams have all but stopped fish migration in the upper reaches of the yet many more dams are being built every year.

If you are a fish, having your island birthplace blasted away with dynamite might seem pretty rough. But coming across a new dam is like a nuclear bomb going off.


Alan Marshall, Lecturer in Environmental Social Sciences, Faculty of Social Sciences and Humanities, Mahidol University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

The Conversation
image
Business Standard
177 22

What's at stake in China's plan to blow up islands in the Mekong

But China's vision of Asian trade routes is not without its own bombs

It’s the largest freshwater fish in the world and, once upon a time, these fish swam the great lengths of the mighty River from southern China, through Burma, Laos, Thailand, and Cambodia, all the way to the river’s delta in Vietnam.

Now, there are maybe only a few hundred adult specimens still living, hidden in isolated deep pools in a few relatively undisturbed places along the river.

If you wish to catch a glimpse of one, the best bet is to cast your eyes about the murals of the Mekong’s resorts, restaurants and riverside temples, where they’re often painted in a serene satiny blue.

A painting of a Pla Beuk at a Thai temple. Xufanc/Wikimedia Commons

In folklore, pla beuk was once revered throughout the Mekong basin and those who sought to capture one for eating in days gone by would often perform special rituals and offerings before heading out to fish for it.

The traditional way to claim the life of a pla beuk was to go out in a wooden boat and throw a homemade spear or fibrous net laden with rocks at each corner. But now wants to kill them another away – with bombs.

“Who would bomb a catfish?” I expect you’re asking.

China’s expanding trade routes

On May 14, the Chinese Government launched its Silk Road Project to develop trade routes across the lands of Central Asia to Europe as well as sea routes across Asian seas.

But China’s vision of Asian trade routes is not without its own bombs. The company charged with developing a trade route along the River (the state-owned Chinese Communications Construction Company) is set to dynamite river islands on a 900-kilometre section of the river that passes from the Chinese province of Yunnan through to the river port of Luang Prabang in

On the other side of the Indochinese peninsula, in the South Sea, is building islands, but in the it wants to demolish islands in order to make the river more navigable. Proponents talk about the process as a “river improvement project”; a “gentling-out” of the to make it smooth and easy to handle – like the pla beuk, it might be said.

This section of the river has been navigable for decades for cargo boats carrying about 60 tonnes or more. These can safely pass between the Mekong’s islands if an experienced navigator is on board.

But is brandishing about the idea that larger boats mean more trade and more prosperity. And it plans to open up the Yunnan-to-Luang Prabang stretch of the Mekong to 500-tonne cargo barges.

This means hundreds of river islands in China, Burma, and have to be blasted away.

Route to environmental decay

While not officially part of the new Silk Road, the route is still part of China’s national goal of trade route expansion. But outside of that country, environmental groups such as Save the Mekong, International Rivers, the Burma Rivers Network are questioning the economic case for the to serve as an expanded trade route.

They’re suggesting that a smoothed out would only increase trade between and the nations by an insignificant amount. Many also suggest that the plan is mainly about getting access to the fast-growing Southeast Asian market for Yunnan’s agricultural products.

Right now, it takes two weeks for Yunnan producers to get their goods to a Chinese seaport and another week to get them to big city markets in Indochina. The trade route is touted as being able to do all this within a few days.

Despite the bigger boats and the faster travel times, the economic impetus may be less important to than political drivers. China will be lending money and providing credit lines – to the tune of US$10 billion – to the various nations. And it can leverage this debt to push forward with its own interests in the region.

If the river islands do get blasted away, a whole range of environmental consequences may cascade for hundreds of kilometres. The river may travel faster in parts, eroding riverside farms and conservation zones. It may also end up travelling slower in other parts; lowering water levels and changing the quantity and quality of sediment that will flow downstream.

The impact of this changing water flow on food and water security has not yet been calculated — if it ever could be — but the risks are enormous.

The Mekong, with its nutrient-rich sediment, is crucial for growing rice. It’s also home to hundreds of species of edible fish. For tens of millions of people in the basin, including millions of fisherfolk who live at near-subsistence level, fish and rice constitute their daily diet.

It may be shortsighted to gamble with this invaluable resource just to effect a slight increase in trade figures. And this kind of threat to their livelihood recently pushed fishing communities to take to their riverboats in protest.

What’s more, business people in Burma, and might look forward to increased trade between their nations but they may find themselves squeezed out of their local economy if they’re undercut by cheap goods flowing down the river from

Rock or an island?

Then, there’s the catfish. Those who seek to “smooth-out” the generally refer to the river islands as rocks. But these “rocks” are far from lifeless.

Many are vegetated, some with trees, and their presence in the river creates a range of pools, shoals, bars, shallows, and waterfalls, perfect for breeding countless varieties of fish, including pla beuk.

When pla beuk are young – and “ugly-cute” with prominent their whiskers – they hang around these sorts of places as they shelter from predators, feed on algae, and slowly grow. Destruction of these river islands and rocky outcrops would probably lead to the demise of juvenile fish.

At the moment, the River is known to be the most biodiverse river in the world — after the Amazon. But if the river islands are bombed away and if the riverscape is engineered into something more like a large artificial canal, then endangered species, including pla beuk, face extinction.

The Conversation logo

Alas, even if the river islands are left in peace, the fish of the face another attack from China: dams. Chinese dams have all but stopped fish migration in the upper reaches of the yet many more dams are being built every year.

If you are a fish, having your island birthplace blasted away with dynamite might seem pretty rough. But coming across a new dam is like a nuclear bomb going off.


Alan Marshall, Lecturer in Environmental Social Sciences, Faculty of Social Sciences and Humanities, Mahidol University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

The Conversation

image
Business Standard
177 22