Laos has agreed to open a proposed hydropower project along the Mekong River to further scrutiny from neighbouring countries, after Vietnam previously called for a delay in developing the dam.
The Don Sahong hydropower project, which had been submitted under a procedure known as notification, will now instead undergo a process known as prior consultation, giving member nations the opportunity to address any harmful effects on the environment, according to the Mekong River Commission, which works with member nations to promote sustainable development of the river.
"This shows some willingness to work together with other member countries, but I'm not sure if one can read too much into the change in language," said Phuong Nguyen, a research associate at the Washington-based Centre for Strategic and International Studies.
"This may be partly an attempt to work with other member countries and partly rhetorical, as long as Laos doesn't have any other significant economic alternatives to dam-building," Nguyen said.
In a 2011 filing on the Xayaburi dam, the first barrage Laos is building on the river, Vietnam said the "limited timeframe of the prior consultation was not adequate to facilitate the achievement of the process' objectives" and asked for the project to be postponed for at least 10 years.
"Upstream hydropower development … will present serious threats to the Mekong Delta, in particular saline intrusion, reduced fisheries and agricultural productivities, and degradation of biodiversity," the 2011 filing said.
The Laotian government said at a meeting on Thursday of the commission's council ithat it was committed to developing the Don Sahong project in a "responsible and sustainable manner" and that hydropower development is a top priority and key to stimulating Laos' economy.
Malaysia's Mega First Corporation agreed in 2008 to build and operate Don Sahong and says construction of the dam is expected to start this year and finish in 2019. Vietnam has called for the start of construction to be delayed until at least the end of 2015 and says it will "carefully study" its environmental impact.