Programme  OS5c Major international rivers  abstract 87

Transboundary Water Cooperation and the Regional Public Good: The Case of the Mekong River

Author(s): Oliver Hensengerth
Address: University of Duisburg-Essen Institute for Development and Peace (INEF) Geibelstrasse 41 47057 Duisburg Germany Email: Tel.: +49-203-379-4424 Fax: +49-203-379-4425

Keyword(s): transboundary river cooperation and conflict, regional governance, regional public good

Article: abs87_article.doc
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Session: OS5c Major international rivers
AbstractAn increasing

number of water-based cooperation projects have emerged in mainland Southeast Asia since the conclusion of the

Cambodia conflict in 1991, which ended the Cold War in East Asia. Three of these projects have been well

publicised and have attracted a lot of international attention as to the quick development of the economies in the

Mekong region: the Greater Mekong Subregion (GMS) of 1992, the Mekong River Commission (MRC) of 1995

and the Quadripartite Economic Cooperation (QEC) or Golden Quadrangle of 2001.

These three

programmes share a number of characteristics, but they also divert in crucial points. The most obvious common

feature is that all three projects involve several countries and are based on the Mekong River. They are therefore

transboundary projects based on a transboundary river. The most striking difference is that the MRC is based on an

extra-regional initiative, which brought the concept of Integrated Water Resources Management (IWRM) to

mainland Southeast Asia and with it ideas of economic development that takes into consideration environmental

impacts. However, the IWRM agenda of the MRC is far from being implemented. It could thus be argued that the

MRC is a failed attempt of Mekong cooperation due to the fact that its founding initiative did not come from the

region and incorporates development concepts that stem from European governance ideals. However, looking at the

QEC and GMS, both initiatives came from the region and do not include ideas of environmental protection, but are

designed to achieve unrestrained economic development. Interestingly, however, while the GMS thrives, the QEC

failed owing to escalating conflicts between member countries on the central government and civil society levels and

Thailand’s withdrawal from the project in 2003.

This presentation looks at the commonalities and differences

of all three of the projects and analyses the reasons for failure or success. The following parameters will be analysed:

• the institutional structure from a multi-level governance perspective;
• the rationale and agenda on which the

project is based;
• the internal or external origin of the initiative for establishment.

Looking at these

parameters shall bring answers to the following questions: why are some projects successful, others not? What are

the factors that impede or facilitate cooperation? What lessons can be learned for effective sustainable river

cooperation in mainland Southeast Asia, in which compromises can be negotiated to fulfil the interests of actors on

multiple levels: non-state (farmers, river-side communities); local (provincial governments); central (central


The presentation follows the argument that three factors need to be in place for water

cooperation to be effective in mainland Southeast Asia, that is, to produce a regional public good:
• home-grown

initiatives, which produce agendas that stem directly from regional concerns and governance experience and are

therefore grounded in the political culture of the area;
• a civil society that represents the interests of communities

affected by water construction projects and is able to negotiate compromises with government agencies within multi-

level governance structures for the project to move on instead of failing (QEC) or lingering (MRC);
• trust

between national governments to negotiate compromises on the national level for the project to move on instead of

failing (QEC) or lingering (MRC).

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