HUA HIN, Thailand - Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Song Tao, who is attending the Mekong River Commission (MRC) Summit here, told Xinhua on Sunday that China is ready to strengthen the cooperation with the downstream Mekong countries in drought-and-flood relief, hydrological information and technique sharing, as well as mutual hydrographic experts visit.
"As a Dialogue Partner of the MRC, China will discuss the issues of regional development and cooperation with the lower Mekong countries during the meeting," said Song at the MRC Summit held on April 4 and April 5 at Thailand's seaside resort town Hua Hin, about 200 km south of capital Bangkok.
The MRC Summit, first ever since the commission is set up 15 years ago, has drawn a lot of attention since southwest China and some areas of the four MRC members -- Cambodia, Laos, Thailand and Vietnam -- have been suffering severe drought since the end of last year.
Mekong, the longest river in Southeast Asia, also witnesses the lowest water level in the past 50 years.
When talking about the drought ravaging the Lancang (the name for the upper stretch of Mekong River in China)-Mekong basin, Song said China is a victim, too.
"Now there are more than 23 million people short of drinking water in the five provinces of southwest China," he said, adding that China has been exchanging information with the lower Mekong countries in an effort to fight the drought jointly.
"For example, as an emergency measure, China has been, since March 22, providing the MRC the data from the hydrological stations at Yunjinghong and Man'an on a weekly basis, including water level, volume, and precipitation. All these information played a great role in the drought-relief work of the countries."
He also mentioned that China as a Dialogue Partner has taken part in 14 dialogues with the MRC since 1996, and its sharing of data with MRC on rainfall and water level of Yunjinghong and Man' an stations during every year's flood season can be tracked back to 2003.
Asked about the future cooperation, Song listed six dimensions in which China is willing to push forward the collaboration with MRC and the lower Mekong countries: making full use of the existing annual dialogue mechanism; extending the cooperation platform under the framework of the newly-launched ASEAN-China Free Trade Area, including the areas of waterway transportation, tourism, agriculture, fishery, environment protection, irrigation, forest management, environment assessment
He also proposed pushing forward the joint work on disaster relief, including flood reporting and flood/drought relief training; cooperating and exchanging on hydropower development, as well as arranging more technique sharing and mutual visits of the related officials and experts.
On the sidelines of the summit as well as a previous two-day MRC international conference here, which drew hundreds of experts, officials and representatives, China's dams over Lancang River is among the hot topics since some civil groups claimed those dams are causing the Mekong to run dry.
"Those claims are scientifically groundless," Song said.
He explained that China now has three hydropower stations in operation over Lancang River, namely Jinghong, Manwan and Dachaoshan. "Those three are cascade hydropower stations that do not consume water, with scarce effect on the water volume flowing across the border."
The research and evaluation work by various Chinese and overseas institutes supports Song's remarks. According to a brochure issued by China's Ecosystem Study Commission for International Rivers, the study by those institutes including Canada Dilon Environment Scientific Consulting, drew the same conclusion.
Song said the runoff volume of Lancang River accounts for only 13.5 percent of that of the Mekong River. The runoff of Mekong River mainly comes from the middle-and-lower Mekong basin, amounting to 86.5 percent.
He also quoted a statement by MRC last month as saying that the water level decline of the Lancang-Mekong main stem is contributed by an early ending of rain season in 2009, a low monsoon rainfall and an extreme scarcity of dry-season rainfall.
"China shares common interests with the lower Mekong states for the protection of Mekong basin water resources, its development and usage. As a responsible nation situated in the upstream of the Lancang-Mekong basin, China will never act in a manner that will jeopardize the interests of those nations at the downstream."