Dialogue and Partnership
A Long History of Partnership
One of the core characteristics of the Mekong River Commission (MRC) since 1995, and of its predecessor, the Mekong Committee from 1957-1994 with support of the United Nations, has been the interest and support that partners in the region and all over the world afford the organisation.
In the 1950s, US agencies such as the US Bureau of Reclamation, the US Army Corps of Engineers, and the Ford Foundatio conducted studies on the potential development of the Mekong River Basin. These assessments laid a foundation for the basin planning role of the Mekong Committee, culminating in the landmark Indicative Basin Plan (IBP) 1970 and the revised IBP 1987. France’s Compagnie Nationale du Rhône (CNR) was also an early contributor with its important 1994 Run-of-River Dams Study. However, proposed projects in these plans were not fully implemented due to war and conflict. When peace returned to the region, a new era of Mekong cooperation began when the Mekong Agreement was signed in 1995, establishing the MRC.
Taking a “whole basin” approach through cooperation with the upper riparian countries is necessary for the sustainable management and development of the entire Mekong River Basin. Just one year after the signing of the 1995 Mekong Agreement, the MRC began to forge its working relationships with the People’s Republic of China and the Union of Myanmar, which became the MRC’s Dialogue Partners.
China and Myanmar have demonstrated an increasing commitment to cooperation, including annual dialogue meeting, information and data sharing, technical exchanges, joint research and capacity-building activities. China and Myanmar have also sent junior officials to work at the MRC Secretariat, thereby building friendship, trust and networks in support of upstream-downstream relations.
In 2002, the MRC’s cooperation with China was strengthened with the signing of an Agreement on the provision of daily river flow and rainfall data from two monitoring stations in Yunnan Province during the wet season. These data help improve the MRC’s regional daily forecast of downstream water levels at key points on the Mekong River during the flood season.
In 2013, both parties renewed the agreement and China agreed to increase the frequency at which data is sent to the MRC from once to twice per day, and a willingness to share data during the dry season in case of drought emergencies, including in 2016. This agreement was renewed in 2019. The extension of the agreement was a sign of continued trust between the MRC and China.
In recent years, the MRC Secretariat has cooperated with Myanmar in a number of areas, such as annual dialogue meeting, exchanges of visits, participation in each other’s meetings, and sharing technical expertise in flood prevention and management. A number of areas, such as navigation safety, basin planning and sharing of hydro‐meteorological data have been explored as potential spheres for future technical cooperation.
Cooperation between the MRC and its Member Countries with China and Myanmar has recently been further strengthened by the establishment of the Mekong Lancang Cooperation mechanism, including in water cooperation among the six riparian countries. The MRC Secretariat participates in the Joint Working Group of the MLC Water and has a collaboration Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the Lancang Mekong Cooperation Water Centre (LMC Water Centre).
Due to the Mekong River’s significance as one of the world’s “great rivers” and its location in one of the most geostrategic regions globally, development partners continue to support the MRC as the only “treaty-based organisation” with a mandate to promote and coordinate the sustainable development and management of the river basin. From the inception of the MRC until 2015, major partners have included Denmark, Finland, Germany, Sweden, Australia, Belgium, the Netherlands, the World Bank, the European Union, and Switzerland. These partners provided the majority of funds and international expertise and experience for the development and implementation of core MRC technical programmes. Remarkable achievements include the Basin Development Strategy, sectoral and thematic basin-wide strategies and plans, technical guidelines, the MRC Procedures, and extensive data, information and knowledge base.
Following the MRC organisational reforms in 2016, a new financial mechanism of pooled funding – the basket fund – came into operation. With the Member Countries increasing their financial contributions year by year with the goal of financial sustainability by 2030, development partners have accordingly decreased their contributions. Partners currently paying into the basket fund in support of the MRC Strategic Plan 2016-2020 include Australia, the European Union, Germany, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Sweden, and Switzerland. Other partners include Belgium, Finland, Japan, the United States, and the World Bank, which support specific activities such as navigation, assessment, irrigation, and Mekong IWRM projects.
In addition to dialogue and development partners, the MRC has a long history of technical collaboration and exchanges with various partners including international organisations, river basin organisations, policy-oriented research institutes, the private sector and non-governmental organisations. These organisations work with the MRC through some forms of agreement, including MOUs, partnership agreement, cooperation framework.