The Salween River ("Nu" in China) is Southeast Asia's longest undammed river, running 2,800km from the high T'ang-ku-la (or Qinghai) Mountains in Tibet, through Yunnan province in China, down through Myanmar and out into the Gulf of Martaban and the Andaman Sea. For much of its length it winds through steep gorges and canyons, though it fans out in a nutrient-rich delta near the sea, irrigating Myanmar's richest agricultural areas. Ten million people live in the Salween watershed, which covers 320,000km2. It is home to the fishing cat and the world's most diverse array of turtles.

Each of the developing nations which has access to the river have plans to make use of its untapped energy. China is planning to build a series of 13 dams in Yunnan province. Myanmar and Thailand have been engaged in discussions about creating a joint damming project along the lower course of the Salween which divides the two nations. Thailand's rapid industrialization has stripped their side of the river clean of forests, while on the Burmese side a different issue persists. Within Myanmar there are several states fighting for independence, suppressed by the brutal military regime. Among them are the Shan State in the north, bordering China, the Karenni State (or Kayah State) to the east, bordering Thailand, and the Mon State near the delta. Damming the Salween in these areas would cause untold environmental damage, and deprive hundreds of thousands of both their ancestral homelands and their means of living.

Dam construction began in early 2004 in China.