Plenary Lecture: The shifting geopolitics of the Mekong

by Professor Philip Hirsch


Professor of Human Geography

Director, Mekong Research Group (AMRC)

School of Geosciences                                                       

The University of Sydney 





Chair of session: Professor James D Sidaway (Professor of Political Geography, National University of Singapore)



The Mekong is a region whose rapid economic development is bound up in a number of transboundary issues, which generate a complex regional geopolitics.  The most obvious of these is the shared river basin whose main artery gives the region its name, and whose waters are shared by six countries.  Flows of goods and people, infrastructure development and a host of environmental linkages also bind the countries of the Mekong into relationships that throw up new challenges, just as earlier tensions and conflicts recede.  At the same time, the Mekong is situated within a wider regional and global politics that help position countries with respect to one another.  The geopolitics of the region tend to be discussed and addressed in issue-specific ways – water, boundary disputes, people trafficking and so on.  This paper seeks to explore the inter-relatedness of geopolitical agendas as multi-dimensional configurations, so that for example we need to understand politics around water and dams between lower Mekong countries in the context of China’s rise and its meaning for the negotiating stances of smaller countries in the region.  The paper employs case studies to illustrate these themes and to suggest that multi-dimensionality is key to understanding their dynamics. 



  1. Dr Kari n Dean, Tallinn University, Estonia 
  2. Dr Carl Grundy-Warr, National University of Singapore, Singapore  
  3. Dr Mak Sithirith, Royal University of Phnom Penh, Cambodia
  4. Dr. Thomas Ptak, University of Oregon, United States of America sponsored by the journal Political Geography