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Downstream on the Mekong: Contrasting Cambodian and Vietnamese Responses to Chinese Water Control

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Technical Report

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Naval Postgraduate School Monterey United States

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Decreasing supplies of fresh water, growth of the global population, and the transnational nature of much of the worlds water resources have made global competition over water increasingly common. In Southeast Asia, Chinese hydroelectric dams at the Lancang Cascade have enabled China to control the headwaters of the Mekong River and threaten downstream states access to this vital resource. Cambodia and Vietnam are two Southeast Asian states whose economic prosperity is inextricably linked to undisturbed access to the Mekong. Despite similar requirements for river usage, the two states have responded to Chinese control in surprisingly different ways.This thesis investigates the different Vietnamese and Cambodian responses to Chinas Mekong River development by analyzing their requirements for the Mekong River and contrasting each states relationship with China. The thesis finds that Cambodia has developed a strategy of appeasement toward China, placing its short-term interests in Chinese economic assistance ahead of its long-term requirements for riparian productivity, while Vietnam has balanced against the super power, demonstrating the resolve to protect its riparian interests. Similarly, the two states both use institutions to offset the super powers significant size and power advantages, providing them an alternative path to shape Chinas actions.

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  • Hydrology, Limnology and Potamology

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