Volume #26 - 395.|
PROJET DE LA RIVIÈRE MEKONG
Note du secrétaire d'État aux Affaires extérieures|
pour le Cabinet
DOCUMENT NO. 43-59|
le 4 février 1959|
MEKONG RIVER PROJECT|
The Mekong River is one of the great rivers of the world. Like many of the river systems of South and Southeast Asia, the Mekong gathers its headwaters in the Sino-Tibetan region. On its course, which extends over some 2,800 miles, it passes through eastern Tibet, Yunnan province of China, Burma, Laos, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam, to empty into the South China Sea.
2. The United Nations Economic Commission for Asia and the Far East (ECAFE) initiated in 1951 a series of field investigations and studies of the Mekong River. The interest of ECAFE was based on the potential benefits which the successful harnessing of the river might be ex-pected to yield to the riparian states in terms of flood control, irrigation, hydro-electric power and improved navigation. For the purposes of the studies undertaken by ECAFE the river includes a drainage area within Laos, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam totalling some 235,000 square miles or roughly the area covered by the province of Saskatchewan. This area is commonly referred to as the Lower Mekong River Basin.
3. In 1957, the United Nations Technical Assistance Administration, at the formal request of the riparian states, appointed Lt. Gen. Raymond A. Wheeler to head a mission with the object of studying and investigating on the spot a number of projects that had been formulated by ECAFE for the development of the Lower Mekong River Basin. The Wheeler Mission submitted their report in January 1958. The report concluded that before any particular projects (such as the construction of dams) could effectively be initiated, further investigations and the collection of basic technical data would be required. Accordingly the Wheeler Mission recom-mended a five-year programme of planning at an estimated cost of $9.2 million. The pro-gramme outlined by the Mission includes aerial surveys, levelling, hydrologic observation, and soil surveys. The report of the Wheeler Mission was endorsed by the riparian states concerned (Laos, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam) as members of the "Committee for Co-ordination of Investigations of the Lower Mekong Basin."
4. A number of countries and international agencies have already agreed to co-operate in the programme recommended by the Wheeler Mission. The United States has pledged $2.2 million for river gauging and the co-ordination of hydrologic and river flow measure-ments. France has contributed about $140,000 for the purchase of hydrologic instruments. New Zealand has made a contribution of $100,000 for the acquisition of four survey launches, one for each of the riparian states. Japan has appropriated the equivalent of $54,000 towards a survey of the major tributaries of the Mekong. Various agencies of the United Nations have also offered the services of experts to assist in the different phases of the Mekong project.
5. In April 1958 the Executive Secretary of ECAFE visited Ottawa. On that occasion he expressed the hope that, since aerial surveying and mapping appeared to be an important ele-ment of the programme recommended by the Wheeler Mission, Canada would consider participating in this phase of the programme. The Canadian authorities subsequently selected Lt. Col. G.S. Andrews, the Surveyor-General of the Department of Lands and Forests of the Province of British Columbia, to make a detailed study of the problems and estimated costs involved in the proposed aerial survey and mapping of the Lower Mekong River Basin. It was clearly understood, however, that the selection of Lt. Col. Andrews for this task in no way committed the Canadian Government to participate in any phase of the Mekong project.
6. Lt. Col. Andrews submitted his report to the Canadian Government on October 31. The report endorses the basic conclusions of the Wheeler Mission. It agrees, in particular, that the surveying and mapping of the river is an essential first step towards "the realization of the ultimate physical modifications to the river which will unlock its great potential service to the region." The only technical point on which Lt. Col. Andrews differs from the Wheeler Mission is that he would, for the present, concentrate all survey work on the main stem of the Mekong River, leaving work on the tributaries and virtually all of the detailed mapping of potential irrigation and drainage areas to be done at a subsequent stage. The total cost of the proposed first priority surveys and mapping operations is estimated by Lt. Col. Andrews to be $1.9 million. Since the United States is already committed to doing the basic control surveys, at a cost of $600,000, the residual cost would appear to be of the order of $1.3 million.
7. In determining whether this is a project in which Canada might undertake to participate under the Colombo Plan, the following considerations are relevant:
(a) Expenditures associated with economic development in South and Southeast Asia are generating a greater demand for food. Because the expansion of agricultural production in the area has not been adequate to meet this increased demand, it has had to be met largely by way of imports. To the extent that such additional imports cannot be arranged on concessional terms they have exacerbated the pressure on scarce foreign exchange, often at the expense of imports of capital goods. This suggests that even greater priority will have to be given to the expansion of agriculture. The Mekong project will satisfy this requirement in that it is designed to promote agricultural development.
(b) There has recently been some discussion among the members of the Colombo Plan concerning the regional impact of national development programmes. In the Canadian view, as put forward at the recent Colombo Plan Conference at Seattle,573 there is not only an overall shortage of resources available for development but there is also considerable competition in the claims upon these resources. One way of achieving a genuine saving in resources would be for national competition in the claims upon these resources. One way of achieving a genuine saving in resources would be for national development programmes wherever possible to take into account the interests of the region as a whole. The Mekong project appears to be a good example of a co-operative project that will yield benefits to more than one of the countries of the region. Indeed, because the Lower Mekong River Basin is one of the relatively uncon-gested areas of South and Southeast Asia (with a population density of only about one-quarter that of India, China, Java and Japan), it is likely to be one of the areas to which the rest of the region will look for an expansion of food supplies to satisfy the requirements of rapidly growing populations elsewhere.
(c) Because of the nature of the Mekong project, it has already involved a considerable degree of co-operative planning on the part of the four riparian states. It may be expected that, when the stage is reached for harnessing the river by constructing dams and other installations, the present four-power co-ordinating arrangements will be formalized into machinery along the lines of the International Joint Commission. In this way it is to be hoped that friction between the countries concerned over the use of the water resources of the Mekong can be held to a minimum. The difficult political situations that have been created by friction over the development of the Indus and Nile river systems illustrate the advantage of co-operative planning from the outset. A good deal of the credit for this in the case of the Mekong project must go to ECAFE.
(d) Much of the future planning in connection with the Mekong project will depend on the quality and completeness of the basic mapping and surveying that represent the first phase of the project. Canadian operators have had wide experience in the use of modern techniques for the surveying and development of resources at home as well as abroad. Moreover, the fact that Canadian companies have been operating abroad not only under Colombo Plan auspices but also on commercial contracts suggests that their services are competitive. Indeed, if it were decided that Canada should assume responsibility for the first priority phase of the surveying and mapping of the Lower Mekong River Basin, the experience gained by Canadian companies is likely to put them in a good position to participate in subsequent phases of this project and in other survey projects in the area.
8. The countries directly concerned with the Mekong project (Laos, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam) are all members of the Colombo Plan. Three of these countries are also countries with which Canada has formed particularly close contacts through our service on the Interna-tional Truce Commissions in Indochina. So far these countries have not submitted to us a joint request for Canadian assistance in the development of the Lower Mekong River Basin and it has not been our practice, in the absence of such a request, to commit Canadian Colombo Plan funds to an economic development project. We have, however, been given to understand by the Executive Secretary of ECAFE that the four countries regard this as a project of high economic priority and that they would be prepared to submit a joint request for Canadian participation in the project if they were informally assured in advance that such a request would be received favourably. They met in Bangkok from December 15 to 18 as members of the Mekong Co ordination Committee to review offers of external assistance and to agree on the appointment of an Executive Agent for the project to be financed by the United Nations Technical Assistance Administration. They are due to meet again in Vientiane from February 27 to March 4.
9. The sum allocated to non-Commonwealth countries under our Colombo Plan programme for 1958-59 is $2 million. At its meeting on September 7 Cabinet directed that aid to the non Commonwealth countries in the current fiscal year should be mainly in the form of surplus agricultural products. Negotiations to this end are proceeding with the countries concerned. In the meantime it is clear that a project of the magnitude of the Mekong River survey and map-ping will exceed the resources that are likely to be available for capital projects in non-Commonwealth countries this year. The fact is, however, that Aerial survey work could not, in any case, be undertaken before the winter months of 1959. Moreover, the survey and mapping would be spread over a two-year period and the cost of the project could therefore be charged against allocations available to these countries out of the 1959-60 and 1960-61 Colombo Plan appropriations.
10. In the light of these considerations I recommend that
(a) The Canadian Government agree, in principle, to undertake the first priority phase of the surveying and mapping of the Mekong River at a cost not to exceed $1.3 million;
(b) the sums required for this purpose be met from Colombo Plan appropriations for 1959-60 and 1960-61;
(c) Canadian participation in the project be subject to the submission of a joint formal request for Canadian assistance by Laos, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam;
(d) the recipient Governments be informed that Canadian assistance in the first priority phase of the project implies no commitment on the part of the Canadian Government to participate in any subsequent or ancillary phase of the project;
(e) the Executive Secretary of ECAFE be informed of the Cabinet's decision in the foregoing terms.575
574Voir volume 24, les documents 431 et 432./See Volume 24, Documents 431 and 432.
575Le Cabinet étudia cette note le 19 février. La décision fut reportée à la semaine suivante. This memo was considered by Cabinet on February 19. The decision was deferred until the following week.