China and the Geopolitics of the Mekong River Basin: Part II

China and the Geopolitics of the Mekong River Basin: Part II

Editor's note: This is the second of a two-part series on China’s geopolitical interests in the Mekong River Basin. Part I examined the politics and impact of hydroelectric projects on the Mekong River Basin. Part II examines the security challenges to China’s efforts toward economic integration of the Mekong River Basin.

Beijing’s ambitions for China-led economic integration in the Mekong River Basin have encountered several setbacks in recent months, highlighting the limits to China’s ability to use its economic power and control over the headwaters of the Mekong to its geopolitical advantage. In particular, Beijing’s plan to expand the navigational potential of Mekong ports in southern Yunnan province to as far south as Luang Prabang, Laos, has been called into question by recent security developments on the river.

The highest-profile incident was an October attack on two Chinese cargo boats in which 13 Chinese crewmembers on both boats were viciously killed, execution style, with the bodies of all but one dumped in the river. Though details remain scarce, the attack probably took place along a remote stretch of the Mekong mainstream shared by Myanmar and Laos in the narcotics-ridden “Golden Triangle” area. Mysteriously, both boats ended up in Thai waters, near the port of Chiang Saen, as did the floating corpses of the murdered crew members. Adding to the mystery, 920,000 methamphetamine pills were discovered on the two boats. Trafficking in the synthetic hallucinatory stimulant, known locally as “yaba” (crazy medicine), has soared even as production of opium and heroin have stabilized or declined.

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