The military has summoned the leader of an environmental group opposing China’s exploration of the Mekong River for the purposes of developing a commercial shipping route.
On 25 April 2017, Col Jarat Panyadi, Deputy Commander of the 37 Military Circle of Chiang Rai, summoned Niwat Roikaew, the leader of an a local environmental conservation group called ‘Khon Rak Chiang Kong’, for a “chat” at a coffee shop.
The military summoned him to discuss the group’s stance against the navigation of the Mekong River by Chinese ships, the first stage of a plan to develop a shipping route from the Yunnan Province of China to Myanmar, Thailand, and Laos.
During the talk which lasted some 30 minutes, the military officer told Niwat that his environmental group should not campaign against the ships ‘violently’, before asking about the group’s plans.
Niwat told the officer that the group will continue to oppose the navigation plans peacefully.
But the activist maintained that the bombing of outcrops along the Mekong to clear the way for commercial ships will cause irreversible environmental damages to the river and local communities.
Niwat pointed out that local people were not given opportunities to participate in the government’s decision making. No thorough Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) had been performed before Thai authorities give a nod to the navigation plan.
The Thai cabinet on 27 December 2016 gave the green light to the Development Plan for International Navigation on the Lancang-Mekong River (2015–2025), approving boats from China to survey the river.
The first stage of the plan from 2015-2020 involves surveys and assessments of the social and environmental impacts of the project, which have to be approved by the governments of all four countries. During the second stage from 2020-2025, infrastructure such as ports and bridges will be constructed along the river.