By Supalak Ganjanakhundee
6 nations including china to set up body to foster development
Six Mekong countries will kick off a new cooperation mechanism at a ministerial meeting next month to cope with a wide range of issues for regional development, a senior Chinese official said over the weekend.
Foreign ministers from Thailand, Cambodia, China, Laos, Myanmar and Vietnam will gather on November 12 in Southwest Yunnan province’s Jinghong to jumpstart the Mekong-Lancang cooperation mechanism, said Zhang Jiuhuan, vice chairman of the China Public Diplomacy Association.
Six Mekong riparian states already have a number of cooperation mechanisms including the Greater Mekong Sub-region (GMS) – for infrastructure development – the Mekong River Commission (MRC) – for water utilisation management and the Ayeyawady-Chao Phraya-Mekong Economic Cooperation Strategy (ACMECS) – for five countries but which excludes China.
These mechanisms cover only specific issues and areas of cooperation, he said.
“We need a cooperation mechanism which will cover all aspects – political security, economic and social,” he said.
The GMS, initiated by the Asian Development Bank, covers all six countries in the Mekong basin but is specific only to infrastructure development, he said, and noted that there remains no forum in the Mekong basin to discuss political and security issues as well as people-to-people relations.
Zhang, who is a former Chinese ambassador to Thailand, was in Thailand last week to promote the new mechanism.
The idea of having such a mechanism was in fact initiated by Thailand a few years ago and Chinese Premier Li Keqiang explored possibilities to have it during an informal meeting with his counterparts from Mekong countries on the sidelines of the Asean summit last year in Myanmar.
Many issues such as the environmental implication of a hydropower dam construction on the Mekong mainstream, navigation, trafficking, smuggling and narcotics could be discussed in the forum, Zhang said.
“Countries downstream of the Mekong river, which are concerned about the implications of the dam construction upstream, could raise the issue for consultation with countries upstream,” he said.
Known in China as Lancang River, Southeast Asia’s longest river of Mekong runs from China to the South China Sea in Vietnam. Nearly half of its 4,900-kilometre length is in Chinese territory, while river management body MRC covers only four countries in the lower basin – Thailand, Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam. Cambodia and Vietnam complained about the dam construction in China and Laos, but there is no international mechanism to respond to the issue.
The new Mekong-Langcang cooperation mechanism would comprise three levels – senior officials, ministerial and a summit of the leaders, Zhang said.
The mechanism has political content but leaders of the six countries have no intention to make it an international political organisation, he said.
This mechanism would help enhance Asean community integration by reducing the development gap of countries in mainland Southeast Asia, notably new Asean members such as Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar and Vietnam, with old members like Thailand and Malaysia, he said.
The Jinghong meeting would map out areas of cooperation and some “early harvest” projects to yield quick benefits of cooperation, Zhang said.