BANGKOK, May 4 (Xinhua) -- An Chinese expert on Wednesday asked opponents of the plan to blast islets and rocky outcrops in the Mekong River for bigger cargo ships to be more objective and wait for results of the survey work.
Survey ships of a Chinese company came into the Mekong River on the border between Laos and Thailand late last month and they were confronted with protests by some local non-governmental organizations (NGO), which kept saying that such a plan would largely jeopardize the ecology environment, fish and bird habitats, natural resources and ways of life of local villagers living along the river.
"The ships just came here to do the survey work for a report that Thailand, Laos, Myanmar and China would take as reference to decide whether to blast those islets and outcrops," Zhu Zhenming, a professor of the Yunnan Academy of Social Sciences who has been conducting research on Thailand and Southeast Asia for more than 30 years, told Xinhua.
"If the four countries cannot reach a consensus on blasting, the plan may not go ahead," he said. "But the problem is that they (NGOs) are even opposing to the survey work."
"It is irrational to use preconceived adverse effect, instead of concrete results of the survey work to oppose the project. It is too early to oppose the plan now," Zhu emphasized.
The Chinese company conducting the survey, Second Harbour Consultants of China Communications Construction Corp (CCCC), have held meetings with local NGOs to talk about the issue since last December, shortly after the Thai government approved the plan, known as the Development Plan for International Navigation on the Lancang-Mekong River (2015-2025), with an initial survey, design, and environmental and social assessments.
Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha had previously also asked Thais not to worry about the plan right now as it is "merely in process of feasibility study".
"Today, they are merely conducting a feasibility study, considering both good and bad points. That was no cause for concerns because nothing is being done for the time being," Prayut, quoted by his spokesperson, as saying late last month.
Prayut had made it clear that the plan is in the process of feasibility study, Zhu pointed out, adding that the Thai government is objective in terms of the plan.
Some opponents and media blamed China for pushing the plan, which was actually agreed by China, Laos, Myanmar and Thailand and it is not a "China's plan".
"It is not a unilateral decision made by China, but a plan agreed by four countries, namely China, Laos, Myanmar and Thailand," Zhu said.
The four countries earlier agreed to remove rocks and sandbanks to allow ships of up to 500 tons to sail from China's Yunnan province to the Laotian town of Luang Prabang.
Small-size ships can already sail from Yunan to Thailand now. The current Mekong waterway from Jinghong, Yunnan province, to Huay Xai, Laos and Chiang Khong, Thailand, linking China, Myanmar, Laos and Thailand, was opened to commercial navigation in 2001.
Zhu explained that there are many islets and outcrops along the section between Huai Xai and Luang Prabang, threatening navigational safety and that is why the four countries want to clear those islets and outcrops.
Some opponents said the plan will only benefit China, while Zhu said the plan will benefit all four countries and make sailing on the river, regardless of their nationalities, safer and it will promote tourism.
On May 1, Thailand's Chiang Rai province welcomed the first group of Chinese tourists coming to the kingdom on cruise along the Mekong River.
"If the plan only benefits China, it would not be agreed by other three countries," Zhu said. "Nowadays, a cooperation plan has to be beneficial to all sides, no one is silly."
He said Thai Prime Minister Prayut and the Thai government must have made thorough consideration before they decided to support the plan.
He also suggested experts of China, Laos, Myanmar and Thailand will do research on the possible effect of the plan, either jointly or respectively.
"Thailand can take the lead in holding seminars for people of different fields to discuss the plan and also to hear from the pubic and NGOs, which may provide objective and reliable information that the four countries would use to decide whether the blasting should go ahead." Zhu said. Enditem