The Mekong River Commission (MRC) began working with China and Myanmar in 1996 when these two countries agreed to become Dialogue Partners. From the MRC’s perspective, fostering close cooperation with upstream countries is essential to optimally benefit from the increased flow regulation by the storage dams constructed on the Upper Mekong and minimise the risks associated with these projects.

In 2002, MRC’s cooperation with China under this relationship was further strengthened with the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding on the provision of daily river flow and rainfall data from two monitoring stations in Yunnan Province during the wet season to facilitate improved flood forecasting. The agreement was renewed in 2013 and 2019.

Mekong leaders meet at the 3rd MRC Summit in Siem Reap, Cambodia. (click to zoom)

The strategic cooperation between the MRC and China has recently reached a new level. The MRC Secretariat and the Ministry of Water Resources of China in October 2020 signed an agreement that has seen China providing year-round hydrological data from its two stations at the Upper Mekong. This will contribute to better river monitoring and flood and drought forecasting in the Mekong countries. Over the last 18 years, China has shared its water level and rainfall data only during June – October in the flood season. 

In 2019, the MRC Secretariat and the Lancang-Mekong Water Resources Cooperation Centre (LMC Water Centre) signed an MOU following their two-year negotiation. The technical cooperation will allow both sides to conduct data and information exchange, basin-wide monitoring, and joint assessment on Mekong water and related resources. 

China and other five member countries of the Lancang Mekong Cooperation (LMC) agreed to grant an “observer status” to the MRC Secretariat to attend annual meetings of the LMC’s Joint Working Group on Water Resources. By participating in these important meetings, the MRC Secretariat will be able to establish a closer relationship with LMC and to ensure there is information sharing, mutual support and working complementarity between the two. 

The MRC has also started cooperating with China in a number of other areas, including the exchange of relevant monitoring and water-quality data and sharing technical expertise and exchanges in flood prevention and management, hydropower development and environmental management. 

During a drought in 2016, China released emergency water supplies from the cascade dams on the Lancang River to increase flow in the Mekong River downstream. The MRC Secretariat and China’s Ministry of Water Resources then worked closely together to perform a joint evaluation of the emergency water release and its role in easing the drought conditions in the Mekong Basin. During the study, the parties agreed to exchange and share hydrological data, including water level and discharge on the Lancang and Mekong mainstreams. 

Further collaboration in these and other areas are being explored and partnership continues to be built. 

Cooperation with the Dialogue Partners continues to increase through:

  • Yearly Dialogue Meetings at senior level
  • High-level participation from China and Myanmar in MRC Summits and Council meetings
  • High-level visit by the MRC Council Members to China and vice versa
  • Technical exchanges of knowledge and expertise through visits, workshops and joint symposiums
  • Joint studies and research to understanding common issues and make recommendations
  • Junior Riparian Professional Programme, in which China and Myanmar nominate and support young professionals to work at the MRC