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Mekong Leaders Agree to Improve Cooperation on River, China Provides Information

Leaders of Mekong River nations meeting in Thailand have agreed to improve cooperation on using river resources. The agreement comes after a severe drought dropped the Southeast Asian river's levels to a 50-year low, raising pressure on China to provide regular information on its upstream dams.

Prime ministers from Cambodia, Laos, Thailand and Vietnam Monday agreed that better cooperation is needed to balance the economic benefits from the Mekong River and protect the livelihoods of tens of millions of people.

Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva stressed the importance of joint responsibility in managing the river's resources.

"And, such high level cooperation could not have come at a better time because now the Mekong River is being threatened by serious problems arising from both the unsustainable use of water and the effects of climate change. What we see today is thus the decrease in the water level and shortage of water supply, pollution, and depletion of natural resources in the Mekong River itself."

A drought this past year in southern China and Southeast Asia dropped the Mekong to a record 50-year low. Activists and farmers blame China's upstream dams, a suspicion fueled by a lack of information from China about the only dams on the Mekong.

At the summit, China provided some data on water flows from its dams for the past few months but made no commitment to provide regular information on their operations or plans for further dam construction.

China's representative to the summit, Vice Foreign Minister Song Tao, defended that degree of cooperation.

He says the Chinese government has reasonably and sustainable, developed and used the Mekong's water resources in an orderly manner and fully accommodated the interests of downstream countries.

The Mekong River Commission, the organizer of the summit, says if China provides regular data on its dam operations people living downstream who depend on the river could better prepare for any changes.

The four commission members - Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, and Vietnam - agreed to promote sustainable hydropower projects on the river.

They also agreed to hold summits on the Mekong every four years.

China and Burma, which also sent a delegation to the summit, have chosen not to join the MRC despite standing invitations for both countries.