China to launch joint patrols with Mekong countries
China will launch joint patrols with Laos, Thailand and Myanmar along the Mekong River beginning mid-December, following a deadly attack on Chinese ships in October.
The four countries will inaugurate the patrols with a ceremony in 15 December in the Chinese port of Guanlei. China will establish a headquarters for the initiative with coordination offices in each of the other three countries.
China would also provide assistance to Laos and Myanmar for police training and equipment, with police departments from all four countries setting up coordination teams to bolster security measures along the Mekong River.
Report: Joint Mekong patrols to start before Dec. 15 (Xinhua, 27 Nov 2011)
A meeting in Beijing of ministers from the four countries reportedly agreed on the new measures, meant to restore shipping and guaranteeing security.
After the attack on 5 October in which 13 Chinese crew members were killed, China suspended shipping on the Mekong and dispatched patrol boats down the river to escort 164 stranded Chinese sailors and 28 cargo ships back to China.
China reacted angrily to the attack, calling upon diplomatic envoys from Thailand, Laos and Myanmar and asking authorities to expedite investigations into the incident.
Drug smugglers were initially suspected, but nine Thai soldiers were eventually detained. After the attack, China urged Thailand and Myanmar to do more to protect Chinese shipping on the river and it has since led in boosting security along the river and surrounding area, infamous for drug production and smuggling. The Chinese headquarters will be able to communicate with offices in the other three countries on a 24-hour basis.
Report: China and neighbouring states to patrol Mekong River (BBC, 27 Nov 2011)
Report: China to launch Mekong patrols next month: report (AFP, 27 Nov 2011)
Debate in Thailand over lifting of martial law in Mekong area
Meanwhile in Thailand, Defence Minister Yutthasak Sasiprapa and army chief Prayuth Chan-ocha have been debating over whether to lift martial law imposed in the Chiang Saen district of Chiang Rai province following the murders.
The Defence Minister wants martial law to be revoked to allow the police to participate in security affairs but General Prayuth wants martial law to be maintained. General Yutthasak demonstrated his intention to lift martial law at the meeting of the Defence Council at the ministry on Friday. He also proposed that Mekong countries should jointly fight crime on the Mekong, adding that relations between Bangkok and Beijing remained good because Thai authorities were cooperating well with their Chinese counterparts in investigating the murders.
General Prayuth believes that martial law is required to deal with illegal immigration, drug smuggling and illegal logging along the border near the Golden Triangle area where Thailand, Burma and Laos meet, while adding that the military’s operations were transparent and had no conflicts with police in the area.
Report: Prayuth, Yutthasak in rift over Chiang Saen martial law (26 Nov 2011)
India sounds alarm on “increasing Chinese presence”
In India, the Times of India published a report voicing India's fears of mounting Chinese presence in the Mekong area. The report claimed that “Beijing managed to persuade the three countries, under immense pressure from China, to go for joint patrol of the Mekong to ensure such incidents are not repeated.” It added that Indian experts were “alarmed” when China recently obtained a port construction contract in Myanmar, which the report said “will give Beijing considerable access to the Bay of Bengal area,” while also adding that China “has also established strong presence in Sri Lanka.”
Report: Eye on India? China plans to patrol Mekong (Times of India, 28 Nov 2011)