China steps back from islet blasting plan

China steps back from islet blasting plan

Says Thais living by Mekong would suffer

Beijing may be backing away from insisting these and other islets and shoals in the North be dynamited to make way for big Chinese river boats. (File photo)
Beijing may be backing away from insisting these and other islets and shoals in the North be dynamited to make way for big Chinese river boats. (File photo)

China has agreed not to blast islets along the Mekong River because it would adversely affect Thais living along the watercourse, Foreign Minister Don Pramudwinai said Tuesday.

Chinese authorities have agreed to a change of plan after they acknowledged the project will directly affect Thais in the North, particularly those living in waterfront communities.

This positive decision from China is being regarded as a New Year gift for Thais, Mr Don said.

He was speaking at Government House Tuesday after having attended the 3rd Mekong-Lan Chang Foreign Ministers' Meeting in Yunan, China last Friday.

The meeting discussed the project to improve the navigation channel in the Mekong River, also called the Lan Chang River in China.

In September, CCCC Second Harbour Consultants Co, a Chinese firm commissioned to conduct a survey of the Mekong River, insisted only a few islets and reefs in international waters would be blasted to allow large cargo ships to navigate the river in the dry season.

According to surveys over the last 17 years, some 15 stretches of the waterway in Thai territory hinder navigation.

Vessels carrying cargo weighing more than 450 tonnes can sail through these areas at other times of the year but not during the dry season.

The firm said the blasting plan was in line with a deal signed by Thailand, China, Laos and Myanmar in 2000.

However, the Chiang Khong Conservation Group in Thailand hit back by saying the islet-blasting scheme could damage the river's ecosystem which would affect the livelihoods of waterfront villagers.

The group pointed out that blasting work was unnecessary as large vessels could unload at two upstream piers in Chiang Saen district. Also, Highway R3A was another option.

Meanwhile, talking about Thailand's international standing, Mr Don said improvements have been seen in several areas since Gen Prayut's visit to the US.

On intellectual property infringements, the US upgraded Thailand from its Priority Watch List to Watch List due to intensified efforts to crack down on intellectual property rights violations, he said.

This could help improve how the US generally sees Thailand, he added.

The foreign minister also pointed to the EU agreeing to lift its yellow card on the Thai fishing industry, which was flagged for illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing in 2015.

The yellow card was seen as a precursor to a possible EU ban on Thai seafood exports.

Responding to a media comments that this positive feedback resulted from expectations of a return to democracy soon, Mr Don said the upcoming election played a small part in improving international ties.

Continual peace, order, stability and developments in various fields were major factors, he said, adding this was not overnight success but a result of long-term policy.

The foreign minister also downplayed a request by the US Special Representative for North Korea policy, Joseph Yun, who asked Thailand during a visit last week to help put pressure on North Korea to denuclearise, saying a similar request was also made in 2015.

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