Paper tiger meets white elephant?: an analysis of the effectiveness of the Mekong river regime

Paper tiger meets white elephant?: an analysis of the effectiveness of the Mekong river regime

An assessment of the Mekong River Commission

This report assesses the achievements of the Mekong River Commission, an organisation where Thailand, Lao PDR, Cambodia and Vietnam cooperate about the Mekong River which runs through all four. This study is concerned with international river management. It is an analysis of regime effectiveness, yet there are a number of both theoretical and empirical perspectives which also might have been fruitful to apply to the case of the Mekong River.

The purpose of this study is to shed light on what the Mekong River regime has accomplished and what promotes and hinders the performance of the regime. The purpose is to draw on existing case studies and frameworks, but also to draw conclusions that might be useful for future studies in the same or similar settings either in the developing world, or relating to shared natural resources. Above all, it seeks to understand the dynamics amongst the Mekong River riparians that leads, or doesn't lead, to fruitful cooperation.

Some of the conclusions are:

  • despite the lack of a solid information base on the basin and a weak institutional setting, the regime has initiated fruitful cooperation on less sensitive issues such as capacity-building and gathering and sharing information
  • however, its effectiveness is restricted by the riparians’ concern with sovereignty, lack of leadership within the regime, and other forms of cooperation in the region
  • the geographical location of the participants, influenced by the historical relations between them and domestic political conditions, determines their roles as pushers or laggards within the regime.

Some recommendations are:

  • donors must have a coherent agenda for the region, not only towards each actor in the region
  • donors could also engage in dialogue with private investment companies from their home states that have interests in the region
  • it might be better for China to remain an observer and partner for technical collaboration, rather than becoming a member. This is because her relative political size and weight might mean the regime was forced the regime to adhere to her preferences
  • to move beyond the Mekong river's status as a "paper tiger", the Mekong partners must be more accommodating and willing to compromise than they have shown themselves to be so far.