KIEN VANG, Vietnam — From an American gunboat decades ago, John Kerry patrolled for communist insurgents along the winding muddy waters of the Mekong Delta. From those familiar waterways that eventually turned the young lieutenant against the war, the top U.S. diplomat confronted a modern enemy Sunday — climate change.
In this remote part of southern Vietnam, rising sea waters, erosion and the impact of upstream dam development on the Mekong River are proving a more serious than the Viet Cong guerrillas whom Kerry battled in 1968 and 1969.
“Decades ago on these very waters, I was one of many who witnessed the difficult period in our shared history,” Kerry told a group of young professionals gathered near a dock at the riverfront village of Kien Vang.
“Today on these waters I am bearing witness to how far our two nations have come together and we are talking about the future and that’s the way it ought to be,” he said.
Kerry pledged $17 million to a program that will help the region’s rice producers, shrimp and crab farmers and fisherman adapt to potential changes caused by higher sea levels that bring salt water into the delicate ecosystem.
Kerry said he would make it a personal priority to ensure that none of the six countries that share the Mekong — China, Myanmar, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam — and depend on it for the livelihoods of an estimated 60 million people exploits the river at the expense of the others.
In a pointed reference to China, which plans several Mekong Dam projects that could affect downstream populations, Kerry said: “No one country has a right to deprive another country of a livelihood, an ecosystem and its capacity for life itself that comes from that river. That river is a global asset, a treasure that belongs to the region.”