As China pushes ahead with its massive trade network spanning Asia and Europe, fears are growing for the future of a section of the Mekong River between Thailand and Laos, which Beijing wants to blast with dynamite in order to allow 500kg freight ships to pass. Andrew Marshall reports.
As locals look over the tranquil Mekong River between Laos and Thailand, many are worried that that this unspoilt corner of Southeast Asia could be wrecked by China's economic expansion. SOUNDBITE: Andrew Marshall, Reuters correspondent, saying (English): "The Mekong is one of Asia's biggest rivers, but there are rapids and shoals along its length which stop big cargo ships from passing. Now China wants to change that. Its engineers have been surveying this stretch of the river, in what locals fear is a prelude to blasting away the rapids, and changing the character of the Mekong forever." From the banks of the river, speed boats can be seen with Chinese flags fluttering in the wind. They belong to Beijing's state-owned giant, the China Communications Construction Corp. Surveying rapids and other obstructions that one day could be blasted away to open this prized part of the Mekong, allowing 500 tonne cargo ships to sail through. For many locals, it's a worrying sign of the environmental damage that China is prepared to do, as it lays the foundations for its massive "one belt one road" project - An enormous trading network stretching across Asia and into Europe. SOUNDBITE: Professor Niwat Roykaew, Chairman of Rak Chiang Khong Conservation Group, saying (Thai): "We need to understand that this is part of the eco-system that's very important to the Mekong River and the people and animals living along it. If it's destroyed, this abundance of nature will be no more. Right now we're only thinking about the economy without considering the unimaginable value of the eco-system." Locals fears that valuable fish breeding grounds will be lost and riverside farmlands eroded - A direct threat to people's livelihoods. They still hope the blasting plans will be scrapped, but up against the might of Beijing, they also know they're fighting against the current