Development Policy and International Relations
By Khov Ea Hai, July 01, 2015
Phnom Penh: Mekong river is one of the world longest rivers, flowing through Yunnan province of PRC, Myanmar, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam and then discharging into the South China Sea. It is not only a significant waterway, but it also provides a great potential natural resources for enriching various of agricultural crops, fisheries as well as energy supplies recently. Although the Mekong region reserves a vast valuable natural resources, almost of the countries of Mekong region are least developed countries, namely Myanmar, Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam. There are two reasons that possibly help to explain these, ideology conflict and political difficulties.
Although it is true that there are number of challenges, but there are a wide range of concrete efforts to arise this region by making up the Mekong cooperation to serve as a catalyst for unifying Mekong countries and improving living standard of people of the Mekong.
Under the Asian Development Bank’s initiative, in 1992 the Greater Mekong Sub-region (GMS) Economic Cooperation program was established in order for promoting the sub-regional economic cooperation within these six countries, including Cambodia, Lao PDR, Myanmar, Thailand, Vietnam, and PRC (Yunnan province and Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous region).
Furthermore, the sub-region has drawn number of regional and global economic players, for example Japan (Mekong-Japan Cooperation), RoK (Mekong-Korea Cooperation), India (Mekong-Ganga Cooperation), and United States (US-Lower Mekong initiative), to knock the door for further improving its economic development by listing down their top priority areas.
Priority Areas for Cooperation
This sub-region cooperation is not that simple. This Mekong sub-region cooperation is way beyond the water resource management itself. It has primarily emphasized on variety of potential sectors.
For instance, in GMS program, they have undertaken their attentions on transport, energy, agriculture, environment, trade, investment, tourism, telecommunications and development of economic corridors.
In Mekong-Japan Initiative, there are at least three significant pillars, such as Comprehensive Development in the Mekong region (develop infrastructure, promote public private sector cooperation, and assists developing harmonised economic rules and systems), Environment (reduction of green house gas emission, adoption of negative influence by climate change by expanding financial and technical assistance, providing assistance to overcome vulnerability for the cross-border issues), and Expansion of Cooperation and Exchanges (promote exchanges on parliamentarians and political parties, tourism by the joint efforts of private and public organisations and supports the protection of cultural heritages).
Likewise, six priority areas have been adopted for Mekong-Korea Cooperation such as infrastructure, information and communication technology, green growth, water resource development, agriculture and rural development, and human resource development.
In the same way, for Mekong-Ganga Cooperation, four areas have been prioritized, including Tourism, Culture, Education and Transportation linkage.
Similarly, US-Lower Mekong Initiative underlines on the three priority areas which are Environment, Health and Education.
In this connection, the cooperation for economic development between the Mekong sub-region countries and its development partners has become more complex like noodle. This sub-region becomes so attractive to the regional and global economies because of three crucial reasons. Firstly, the Mekong sub-region now is at peace, stable and secure for investment, business and trade. Secondly, after 1990s the countries of the Mekong have been rapidly modernizing and developing. There are more available rooms for change and improvement in terms of economic development. Thirdly, the sub-region is actually part of ASEAN Economic Community that will be further fully integrated as a single market and production based after 2015.
However, to make the sub-region continuously prosperous, narrowing the development gap among the Mekong countries, sub-region connectivity (both soft and hard infrastructures), and inclusive development must be addressed. In this sense, the policy and the institutional reform are the key to tackle challenges for least developed countries in order to effectively and efficiently run the market-based system that is generous with investment, production and distribution of supply and demand. Additionally, good governance, rule of law and transparency also play a core important role to properly and securely accelerate system to function as well in this sense. Differently, looking into the Mekong countries, PRC and Thailand are way more advanced economise and after by Vietnam. Their difficulties are way more to overcome the value-added chain by upgrading technology, skills and ability.