BEIJING (AFP) – China is moving to head off criticism of its proliferating dams ahead of a Mekong river summit, with a top official quoted Thursday saying they were not to blame for the waterway's record-low levels.
Jia Jinsheng, head of the International Commission of Large Dams, said Chinese dams were not channelling water away from the upper reaches of the Mekong, the state-controlled China Daily newspaper reported.
The comments by Jia, also a top official at the state-run China Institute of Water Resources and Hydropower Research, follow similar remarks this week by Vice Minister of Water Resources Liu Ning and a foreign ministry spokesman.
They come ahead of a summit in Thailand later this month to discuss management of the Mekong, with the river's lowest water levels in 20 years set to top the agenda amid a drought across its drainage basin.
Activists in Thailand have blamed Chinese dams for low levels on the critical waterway, on which more than 60 million people depend for drinking water, transport, irrigation and fishing.
The issue has come to the fore as the drought in southern and southwestern China has dried up water resources there and also affected its Mekong neighbours to the south.
Jia said there are eight existing or planned dams on the Mekong in China, where it is known as the Lancang river.
He added that China's dams had been effective in releasing water during dry seasons and holding it back to help reduce potential flooding in rainy months.
But China's massive dam projects -- built to meet soaring demand for water and hydro-generated electricity -- have long been a source of controversy.
Critics say they often cause huge environmental problems and do little to control floods, while millions of people have been displaced to make way for projects that are often riddled with corruption.
Liu, China's vice minister of water resources, denied on Wednesday that China was hijacking regional water resources and said the country actually needs more water infrastructure.
"In fact there are still not enough, we must continue to increase building efforts in that direction to guarantee water and food production security," he said at a press briefing.