Why China is Killing Asia’s 3rd Longest River, The Importance of the Tibetan Plateau and the Mekong River in Southeast Asia

 Why China is Killing Asia’s 3rd Longest River

The Tibetan Plateau and the Mekong River play crucial roles in Asia’s geography and water resources. The Tibetan Plateau, a vast region in the heart of Asia, is home to numerous glaciers and serves as the source of significant rivers. Among these rivers are the Yangtze, Yellow, and Mekong, which hold immense importance for China and Southeast Asia. This article explores the strategic significance of the Tibetan Plateau, the vital role of the Mekong River in supplying freshwater and supporting livelihoods, and the environmental challenges posed by dam construction.

The Strategic Significance of the Tibetan Plateau:

The Tibetan Plateau is a strategically important region due to its vast reserves of freshwater and the origins of major rivers. With thousands of glaciers storing freshwater, the Tibetan Plateau ranks third globally in freshwater reserves, after the North and South Poles. The Yangtze, Yellow, and Mekong rivers, among the longest in Asia, originate from this region. These rivers are vital for China’s water supply, sustaining millions of people and contributing to the country’s economic growth.

The Mekong River’s Role in Southeast Asia:

Unlike the Yangtze and Yellow Rivers that flow entirely within China, the Mekong River traverses multiple countries in Southeast Asia. It serves as a crucial source of freshwater for nearly 70 million people in the region. Additionally, the Mekong River supplies approximately 20% of the world’s freshwater fish, supporting the livelihoods of countless communities. Its significance mirrors that of the Yangtze and Yellow Rivers in China’s civilization.

The Environmental Impact of Dam Construction:

China’s extensive dam construction along the Mekong River poses significant environmental challenges. The construction of more than 200 dams, mainly in the upper basin, including 11 large storage dams, disrupts the natural flow of the river. These dams generate vast amounts of hydroelectric power, but they also hinder water flow downstream, causing reduced water levels and severe droughts. The impacts are particularly evident in the lower Mekong basin, where communities rely on the river for their livelihoods and agricultural activities.

Drought and Environmental Consequences:

The lower Mekong basin is currently facing severe droughts, exacerbated by lower-than-average rainfall and climate change. Cambodia, downstream from China’s dams, has experienced electricity shortages due to reduced water flow. Furthermore, saltwater intrusion from the South China Sea has damaged farmland and depleted fishing stocks in Vietnam. While natural factors contribute to the Mekong’s challenges, the construction of dams along the river’s path in China worsens the situation.

China’s Approach and International Concerns:

China’s water management strategy, including its management of the Mekong River, remains secretive and guarded. Despite efforts by downstream nations to collaborate through organizations like the Mekong River Commission, China has declined to participate fully. The ongoing drought and environmental issues in the lower Mekong basin necessitate joint efforts between China and Southeast Asian countries to preserve the river’s natural flow and resources.


The Tibetan Plateau and the Mekong River have immense importance for Asia’s water resources and regional stability. The Tibetan Plateau’s glaciers and rivers provide vital freshwater reserves, while the Mekong River sustains millions of people in Southeast Asia. However, dam construction along the Mekong poses environmental challenges, including reduced water flow and droughts. Cooperation between China and Southeast Asian nations is crucial to protect the Mekong’s natural rhythm and ensure the sustainability of the region’s water resources and livelihoods.

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