Briefing Paper

Project: Asia Programme

Oliver Hensengerth
  • Since the end of the Cold War, China has turned away from an exclusive focus on great-power relations and is now cultivating its relations with the countries and institutions of Southeast Asia.
  • China is pursuing regional cooperation in order to improve bilateral relations, gain political support in international forums, insulate itself against US strategic interests and obtain raw materials for its economy.
  • In the Mekong area these issues are concentrated in a small and geographically well-defined area. Its strategic relevance was spelled out in China's 2002 white paper on national defence.
  • While China is by far the strongest economic, political and military power in the Mekong Basin, its geographical position reinforces this asymmetry: as the source country of the Mekong river, China has control over the development of water resources, therefore exercising a degree of 'hydrohegemony'.
  • Consequently, the area is a focal point for traditional and non-traditional security conflicts, where resource competition is adding new layers to deeprooted, old and complex relations.