South Korea is urging Thailand to spearhead the Ayeyawady-Chao Phraya-Mekong Economic Cooperation Strategy (Acmecs) for sustainable water management, after President Moon Jae-in met with Asean leaders last month in Busan under Thailand's year-long chairmanship.
Thailand co-chaired the 2019 Asean-Republic of Korea Commemorative Summit and the first Mekong-ROK Summit from Nov 25-27.
In an exclusive interview with the Bangkok Post, Suh Jeong-in, executive director of the 2019 Asean-ROK Commemorative Summit Preparatory Office, encouraged Thailand to take the lead in Acmecs, which was initiated by former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra in 2003.
"As a development partner of Acmecs, we pledge US$1 million [30.1 million baht] per year to develop cooperative projects in the Mekong area. … Thailand is in a better position to move first because it has been involved in Mekong cooperation for a long time. We will be more than happy to cooperate," he said.
The former Korean ambassador to Asean proposed that synergies be sought between Acmecs and the seven areas of cooperation under the Mekong-Han River Declaration, which was forged at the Mekong-ROK Summit.
"We still don't have the blueprint [for the synergies]. Under Vietnam's Asean chairmanship next year, I hope that [South] Korea, Thailand and Vietnam can take collective action to deliver concrete outcomes. I have proposed triangular cooperation in Mekong. … For example, Thailand can offer the venue and expertise, [South] Korea can provide financing, and others can share their experiences," he said.
In addition to financing, Mr Suh said South Korea's support includes the Mekong-ROK Biodiversity Centre in Myanmar's Nay Pyi Taw, which is due to open in 2025, and the Mekong-ROK Water Resources Joint Research Centre in South Korea, which began operating last month.
According to Kim Young-sun, former secretary-general of the Asean-Korea Centre and ambassador to Indonesia, Acmecs can help bolster Mekong regional cooperation which currently lacks enforceable rules on environmental impacts and use of water resources.
"There are many mechanisms, like the Mekong River Commission [MRC], the Greater Mekong Subregion [GMS], the Lancang-Mekong Cooperation [LMC], and Acmecs. With regards to working with China, Mekong countries should have a unified voice. Acmecs can play a role in having Mekong countries adopt the same stance. But it is a very sensitive issue to talk with China because you have a lot of economic cooperation," he said.
Under South Korean President's New Southern Policy (NSW), Mr Kim reaffirmed South Korea's commitment as a development partner of Acmecs, saying the mechanism was an initiative launched by Mekong countries amid growing geopolitical rivalry.
"Under Vietnam's chairmanship, I hope that the Mekong issue will be elevated to the Asean agenda to unify the bloc's stance. [South] Korea is willing to cooperate with Asean friends. Some people ask why [South] Korea has jumped into the game regarding the Mekong. We are not a big country like Japan, China or the US, but we are well-positioned to work with Mekong friends because we have not been a colonial power. We are a true and benign partner," he said.