An international conference was organized by Ubon
Ratchathani University to updated the knowledge in our global world and to
promote discussion among scholars, institutions, organizations and community
leaders in the Greater Mekong Sub-region (GMS).
Mekong River in Ubon Ratchatani province where huge sandstone cliffs
dominate, marking the border to Laos.
Supported by the Rockefeller Foundation, the conference
“Trans-border issues in the Greater Mekong Sub-Region” was held at the
Nevada Grand Hotel in Ubon Ratchathani on June 30 - July 2, 2005 and was
attended by almost 200 participants.
In an opening plenary session, it was revealed that since
1992 the Asian Development Bank’s GMS Program facilitated infrastructure
development by integrating the six countries of China, Myanmar, Laos,
Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam with a system of economic corridors, energy
grids and power interconnections as well as telecommunication linkups.
Consequently, this has raised a series of transnational
border issues which were discussed at the conference, such as the sex trade,
labor migration, HIV/AIDS, natural resources and environmental management,
regional market economy, regional relations and co-operation, tourism
development, human rights, and cultural studies. As an executive member of
the GMS Business Forum, Dr. Jingjai Hanchanlash singled out the Mekong
River’s reverse “Robin Hood” syndrome, where you rob from the poor to
give to the rich.
Mekong River is the busiest in the Vietnam Delta.
Interesting to note is that the Mekong River is imagined
as an international border and as a border is constructed politically. To
use its natural resources is a geographical matter and as such combines and
does not divide. Logically, the Mekong River becomes a method to think out
of the box. Geographer Philip Hirsch, Director of the Australian Mekong
Resource Center, University of Sydney, promoted the whole GMS with its 240
million inhabitants as a sphere of prosperity and peace. The Mekong River is
already a corridor of commerce and there will be a “Mekong” citizenship
in the future.
Under the theme on tourism development and consequences,
Miss Li Wen from the Yunnan Research and Co-ordination Office for the
Lancang-Mekong Sub-regional Co-operation stressed that future tourism
co-operation among the GMS countries must be cross-border community-based
tourism. Also, there will be a foreseeable clash between mass tourism and
Dr. Hans-Dieter Bechstedt, employed by the University of
Hohenheim, Germany and based at the Faculty of Agriculture, Chiang Mai
University since 2001, presented an important paper on case studies
concerning ethnic minority women from Shan State/Myanmar. These women have
crossed into Pang Ma Pha District, Mae Hong Son Province in Northern
Thailand over the last 20 years, fleeing from both increased poverty and
gross human rights abuses.
During the closing plenary session, Charles F. Keyes,
Professor of Anthropology University of Washington, addressed the forgotten
peoples of the GMS, who live mainly in the hilly borderland of Laos and will
be inevitably integrated in the cash economy of the lowlanders.
But it was to Thai historian Dr. Charnvit Kasetsiri,
Thammasat University, Bangkok to reflect on the future of the Mekong River,
a river that is very remote for most of the Thai people.
Mentioning the 11 rapids from Sipsong Panna in
Yunnan/China to Chiang Khong in Thailand, where the giant catfish abound,
Angkor in Cambodia as a gift of the Mekong River and the very busy Mekong
Delta in Vietnam, he aptly announced that whatever, the river will survive.
The conference included a field trip to the controversial
Pak Mun Dam and the Chong Mek border crossing to Laos. The author of this
article thanks the organizer Natalia Scurrah for the invitation to attend
the conference and to ThaiAirAsia for air travel between Ubon Ratchathani
Chiang Mai. ThaiAirAsia flies daily from Bangkok to Ubon Ratchathani and
Photographs from the CD “Mysterious Mekong” made by Reinhard Hohler.