Greater Mekong Basin

What role can China play in promoting transboundary cooperation in the Greater Mekong Basin to coordinate development, strengthen water governance, and enhance environmental sustainability?

Few of the world’s transboundary river systems are managed well, or sustainably, and the Greater Mekong Basin (GMB) is an example. Cooperation among the six countries that are home to the Mekong River—China (Yunnan province), Lao People’s Democratic Republic, Myanmar, Thailand, Cambodia, and Vietnam—is dampened by long histories of colonialism, conquest and distrust, structural upstream-downstream effects, and nonoverlapping development trajectories resulting from wide differences in national policies and per capita incomes. 

This project, supported by the Harvard Global Institute, seeks to understand how the six GMB countries can work collaboratively to manage the basin’s natural resources efficiently and sustainably. Organizations designed to identify relevant activities in the region have been created, but the mechanisms that will foster the necessary cooperation have yet to be developed. This project’s research focuses on the public policy dimensions of the gains and losses from collaborating, the concessions and other adjustments required, and the processes and procedures that will ensure the inter-country cooperation needed to maintain the environment throughout the Greater Mekong Basin.

This project builds up the research of the Lower Mekong Public Policy Initiative (LMPPI), a previous collaboration between USAID, Fulbright University Vietnam, and the Vietnam Program at the Ash Center designed to strengthen public policy analysis capacity in the countries of the Lower Mekong Region–including Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, and Vietnam. This initiative conducted policy research, teaching, and policy dialogue on public policies that promoted economic development that was ecologically sustainable and improves livelihoods.