Cambodia’s dwindling fish stocks have put the spotlight once again on the stressed waterways of the Mekong river. Fish stocks are at low levels and experts blame factors such as Chinese hydropower for projects upstream for the dramatic drop at the lowest level.
A high-level delegation of Chinese military mapping experts visited a Cambodian naval base in December, three weeks before a huge Chinese surveillance drone crashed in the adjoining province, according to a leaked document obtained by the ABC.
- The drone has revived speculation about China’s role in Cambodia
- Cambodia’s Air Force says it does not know who owns the military-style drone
- A leaked document reveals ties between Cambodian Armed Forces and the PLA
Cambodia’s Air Force spokesman claimed to have no knowledge of who owned the military-style drone or what it was doing surveying the southern coastline.
But the crashed drone has revived speculation about China’s role in the South-East Asian nation after reports emerged last year of a 30-year deal to host Chinese troops, weapons and supplies at the Ream naval base.
When US Vice-President Mike Pence raised the alleged secret base, there were howls of denial from Khmer leaders.
The once sleepy seaside town of Sihanoukville on Cambodia’s south-west coast has been transformed by Chinese cash, but the rapid pace of development has divided locals and raised fears about China’s quest for power.
- Cambodia denies it has signed a secret deal to allow China to base troops at one of its naval bases
- Chinese investors have built casinos, resorts and an airport in Cambodia’s south-west
- US Vice-President Mike Pence has warned Cambodia about Chinese influence in the nation
The signs of Chinese influence are hard to miss here.
Blockages threaten fish stocks and could displace the poor via flooding;
“The lower Mekong countries are “not able to stand up to China geopolitically,” said Thitinan Pongsudhirak, a foreign policy expert at Bangkok’s Chulalongkorn University.
That allows Beijing to keep “undermining habitats and millions of livelihoods downstream.”
BANGKOK – Cambodian fisherman Sles Hiet lives at the mercy of the Mekong: a massive river that feeds tens of millions but is under threat from the Chinese dams cementing Beijing’s physical — and diplomatic — control over its Southeast Asian neighbors.
The 32-year-old, whose ethnic Cham Muslim community live on rickety house boats that bob along a river bend in Kandal province, says the size of his daily catch has been shrinking by the year.
“We don’t know why there are less fish now,” he said of a mystery that has mired many deeper into poverty.
It is a lament heard from villages along a river that snakes from the Tibetan plateau through Myanmar, Laos, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam before emptying into the South China Sea.
Nearly 4,800 km (2,982 miles) long, the Mekong is the world’s largest inland fishery and second only to the Amazon for its biodiversity.
It helps feed around 60 million people across its river basin.