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Laos: Impact of the Don Sahong Dam on Relations with Vietnam By Carlyle A. Thayer

C3S Paper No. 0024/ 2015

We read the transcript of your remarks on ChannelNews Asia concerning the Don Sahong dam on the Mekong River Could you expand on your comment about how the dam could agitate relations within the region. Is there anything Laos stands to lose from taking this unilateral, bulldog approach?

ANSWER: It is clear from the consultation process held in both Cambodia and Vietnam that civil society groups and local inhabitants in the areas likely to be affected are opposed to the Laos’ Don Sahong dam on the mainstream of the Mekong River. Because they were given such short notice of this development they are likely to become more vocal. In Vietnam’s case the consultations took in scientists with various specialities who used scientific reports to back up their concerns about the detrimental impact the dam will have on Vietnam’s Mekong Delta. This is a serious food security and environmental issue and both the Cambodian and Vietnamese governments are likely to pressure Laos to desist or at least postpone construction. This issue is likely to be raised in ASEAN councils by Cambodia and Vietnam as an issue for the ASEAN Economic Community if not ASEAN Political- Security Community and the ASEAN Socio-Cultural Community. Vietnam is likely to lobby outside donor countries like the United States, Japan, Australia and EU for support. Eventually the environmental impact of the Don Sahong dam will be securitized, that is, raised in importance as a security issue by the states concerned. On the one hand, Laos stands to gain because it will sell much needed energy to Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam. On the other hand,  Laos’ dam construction programme threatens both food and environmental security. Cambodia and Vietnam have no recourse than to oppose dam construction. This could have domestic reverberations with the ruling party in Laos. It could also add friction in Laos’ bilateral relations with both countries.

(Article reprinted with the permission of the author Carlyle A. Thayer, Emeritus Professor,The University of New South Wales at the Australian Defence Force Academy, Canberra email:

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