China wants to turn the Mekong River into a canal.
The Chinese government has begun building a series of eight dams on its part of the Mekong. This new system will not result in a huge rise in the water level, as with the monstrous Three Gorges Dam project; the goal on the Mekong is to create hydroelectric power and widen the river’s course so big ships can cruise all the way from Yunnan to export markets and raw materials downriver.
Two dams have already been completed on the upper Mekong. Since they were built, floods have resulted in hundreds of deaths and endangered the livelihood of thousands of farmers who pursue traditional agricultural methods, as far south as Cambodia. An ongoing phase of the Chinese plan is dynamiting the many rapids and shoals that have long prevented through-navigation of the Mekong down to the sea. You might expect that there would be an outcry in Laos over the proposed dam scheme, but there’s almost no such thing as news reporting here; few people outside the handful of cities have any knowledge about the world beyond their village. (It really isn’t in the Lao nature to complain, anyway.) More electricity, more trade, galloping development—a glorious future with no downside, it seems, except the destruction of some of the most spectacular river terrain in the world.