China Premier Li Keqiang says 2017 GDP growth expected around 6.9%

  • China Premier Li Keqiang says 2017 GDP growth expected around 6.9%

China Premier Li Keqiang says 2017 GDP growth expected around 6.9%

Chinese Premier Li Keqiang (3rd L) attends the second Lancang-Mekong Cooperation (LMC) leaders' meeting in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, Jan. 10, 2018. Founded by China in 2015, the summit brings together six countries through which the 4350-kilometre Mekong River flows.

Cambodia, as a member country of groups like the Greater Mekong Subregion, plays "a major role in these regional and subregional organisations, and is therefore important in China's strategic interest", said Dr Deth Sok Udom, a Phnom Penh-based associate professor of worldwide relations.

As such, China, which sits upstream, possesses considerable influence over the five downstream countries and has cemented that control by constructing dams that limit water required for downstream farming.

In terms of future cooperation, the leaders reaffirmed the goal of building a Mekong-Lancang region of peace, stability, sustainable development and prosperity.

With control over the headwaters of the river - known there as the Lancang - Beijing can dam its section of the river while the impacts are felt downstream.

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The biennial MLC Leaders' Meeting is organised in rotation among the member countries. They agreed that MLC needs to contribute more actively to the region's socio-economic development, narrow the development gap among the member countries, assist the building of the ASEAN Community, and cooperate with other mechanisms like the Greater Mekong Subregion and the Mekong River Commission.

Japan has a similar cooperation scheme with the five Southeast Asian countries, with nine Mekong-Japan Summit Meetings having taken place since 2009 and the 10th to be held in Japan later this year.

Calling the two countries close neighbors with profound friendship, Li said China always respects Cambodia's sovereignty and independence, and supports the country to stick to a development path with Cambodian characteristics. The river's basin is home to up to 1,700 fish species, making it the most diverse basin after the Amazon and Congo.

Concern is growing that the potential for causing ecological damage will make the Mekong a flashpoint for China and Southeast Asia's territorial disputes - effectively creating a new South China Sea.

China is the driving force behind numerous projects, having already built eight dams on the river since the 1990s and now building or planning more than a dozen more.

Beijing has already studded the Mekong's upper reaches with six dams and is investing in more than half of the 11 dams planned further south, according to International Rivers.

China is also seeking to have parts or the river dredged or rapids cleared so that large cargo ships can navigate.

Here are five key things to know about the summit and the significance of the Mekong River.

In the two years since the LMC's creation, China has hosted three foreign ministers' meetings and set aside billions of dollars to support 45 projects under the mechanism, including water resource research centres and cooperation on connectivity projects, industrial capacity, border trade, agriculture and poverty alleviation.