SINGAPORE (Aug 13): The deadly collapse of one of the dozen or so dams dotted along the Mekong River and its tributaries has highlighted the rapid development of a waterway that is increasingly important strategically for China and its neighbours.

For hundreds of thousands of people living on its banks stretching from China through Laos, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam, the river is their lifeline. Flash flooding last month from the failure of an auxiliary dam at a hydroelectricity plant being built along a tributary in southern Laos killed about 30 people. It also caused widespread damage to local economies, leaving at least 6,000 homeless and raising questions about how the river is managed.

But the river, made famous in movies and attracting hordes of tourists each year, matters well beyond trade and commerce. Money has poured in as countries, often via state-run or backed companies, compete to build hydropower plants. For smaller, poorer states such as Cambodia and Laos, the investment is welcome, even if it comes with strategic strings attached.

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