Acmecs 'deepens regional ties'

Acmecs 'deepens regional ties'

The group and the summit give Thais a bigger voice

The Ayeyawady-Chao Phraya-Mekong Economic Cooperation Strategy (Acmecs) is a framework vital to regionalisation efforts, especially Asean, the advancement of sub-regional cooperation, and Thailand's leadership role in mainland Southeast Asia, according to Thai experts on regional cooperation.

For Pongphisoot Busbarat, a visiting fellow from the ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute (formerly known as the Institute of Southeast Asia Studies) in Singapore, Acmecs was initiated via Thailand's attempts to play a leading role in the Mekong sub-region and it has placed the country at the centre of Southeast Asian dynamics.

Also he notes that Acmecs could help coordinate CLMVT policy and acquire more bargaining power for its members in the international system. CLMVT is a term referring to the countries of the Mekong subregion, namely Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Vietnam and Thailand.

The strength of the scheme lies in its ability to embrace all mainland Southeast Asian countries into an organised and coordinated regional cooperation unit, with both political and financial commitments by Thailand, he said.

Mr Pongphisoot thinks participating in Acmecs is a win-win situation for Thailand and other countries in the sub-region as CLMVT countries need financial and technical knowhow that Thailand can offer while Thailand can use the platform to stress its strategic role as the major player in mainland Southeast Asia, adding that economically, Thailand can tap more into rich resources and cheaper labour in Acmecs.

He also thinks the framework's objective to create seamless connectivity requires strong coordination among Acmecs countries and, more importantly, financial resources and technology.

"Many projects have been achieved, especially roads linking Thailand to Myanmar, Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam and China through the northern and East-West Economic Corridors; or water transport along the Mekong River. Thailand's current plan to construct high-speed train routes can also partly stimulate this connectivity," he said.

Somjai Phagaphasvivat, a political economist at Thammasat University, said although many areas Acmecs focuses on overlap with several other cooperation frameworks, including the Greater Mekong Sub-region (GMS) and the Lancang-Mekong Cooperation (LMC) mechanism, its strengths are in the areas of water resource management, human resource management, trade, tourism, logistics, and energy.

He said the prime goal of Acmecs to help alleviate economic and development gaps in the sub-region is an ongoing process, though some progress has been made.

Nattapon Tantrakoonsab, a researcher at Chulalongkorn University's Institute of Asian Studies and a specialist in sub-regional economic cooperation, said Acmecs is different from other initiatives since it focuses on sub-regional connectivity and concentrates on area development, especially along borders.

For him, the scheme will help with the creation of a single market and production bases in the sub-region. "One of the achievements of Acmecs is it stimulates trade and investment along borders," he said.

Mr Nattapon notes that in contrast with GMS in which China is present, Acmecs is unique in its own right because it involves only mainland Southeast Asian countries. Therefore, it is a platform that can be used to advance the interests of countries in the sub-region especially in the area of border and sub-regional cooperation.

However, Witoon Permpongsacharoen, director of the Mekong Energy and Ecology Network, said he disagreed with highlighting infrastructure construction and financial assistance as they are redundant to other groupings.

He cited the GMS and the LMC whose members include China which has much more capacity in terms of infrastructure and finance.

"You cannot compete with China," he said. Acmecs should find its own unique qualities and strength. It is more a grouping of mainland countries in Southeast Asia that share borders and people who have similar cultures, he said.

"Instead, Thailand should share the lessons learnt from the economic crisis, social and economic disparity and environmental problems. Moreover, Acmecs members can collaborate in research and development," he said.

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