Riverside nations adopt Mekong action plan

Riverside nations adopt Mekong action plan

From left, Prime Minster Prayut Chan-o-cha, Vietnam's Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang, Cambodian leader, Lao Prime Minister Thongloun Sisoulith and Vice President Myint Swe of Myanmar pose at the second Mekong-Lancang Cooperation meeting, in Phnom Penh on Wednesday. (Reuters photo)
From left, Prime Minster Prayut Chan-o-cha, Vietnam's Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang, Cambodian leader, Lao Prime Minister Thongloun Sisoulith and Vice President Myint Swe of Myanmar pose at the second Mekong-Lancang Cooperation meeting, in Phnom Penh on Wednesday. (Reuters photo)

PHNOM PENH: Leaders of the six countries sharing the Mekong River on Wednesday adopted a five-year plan of action on sub-regional cooperation.

As expected, the first day of the two-day summit did not discuss the Chinese request to dynamite islets and shoals in the Mekong off Chiang Rai province.

The action plan laid out at the 2nd Mekong-Lancang Cooperation Leaders' Meeting prioritises cooperation among Thailand, China, Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar and Vietnam in such areas as connectivity, production capacity, water resources, agriculture and poverty reduction.

China, whose Premier Li Keqiang co-chaired the meeting with Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen, has injected $300 million to fund related cooperation projects, according to the document.

The action plan states that "the Mekong-Lancang is moving towards a new sub-regional cooperation mechanism" that will in part support community-building and regional integration efforts of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, which also includes Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines and Singapore.

The 4,880-kilometre-long Mekong begins in China, where it is known as the Lancang River. It then flows through Myanmar, Laos, Thailand and Cambodia before entering the South China Sea through the delta region of southern Vietnam.

China has built huge hydropower dams in the upper reaches of the river, causing some concerns among downstream countries and environmentalists.

During the summit, Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc urged China to release sufficient water resources for the Lower Mekong countries, especially during dry season.

At the joint press conference, the Chinese premier said the sub-regional cooperation forum is not a mere talk shop but an opportunity to actually get things done.

Cooperation among China and the five Lower Mekong countries, which are drinking the same water, is a win-win situation for all of them, he said.

Leaders of the six riparian countries held their first meeting in China in 2016 and the next summit is to take place in Laos in 2020.

Japan has a similar cooperation scheme with the five Southeast Asian countries, with nine Mekong-Japan Summit Meetings having taken place since 2009 and the 10th to be held in Japan later this year.

When asked if the two schemes overlap or compete politically and economically, Sok Siphana, advisor to the Cambodian government who is in charge of both schemes, said they instead complement each other.

"Both Japan and China are greatly contributing to infrastructure and capacity building, among others, to Mekong countries, especially in Cambodia," he said. "They are really committed and deliver what they have said or promised."


EARLIER REPORT
By Agencies and Online Reporters

PHNOM PENH: Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha met with other leaders of nations along the Mekong River for the second Mekong-Lancang Cooperation summit, and adopted a five-year plan of action on sub-regional cooperation.

The plan prioritises "cooperation" among Thailand, China, Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar and Vietnam in such areas as connectivity, production capacity, water resources, agriculture and poverty reduction.

China, whose Premier Li Keqiang co-chaired the meeting with Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen, has injected $300 million to fund related projects, according to a document seen by Kyodo News.

The action plan states that "the Mekong-Lancang is moving towards a new sub-regional cooperation mechanism" that will in part support community-building and regional integration efforts of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, which also includes Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines and Singapore.

The stated goal of the forum is to promote sustainable development and boost the quality of life for the millions living in the Mekong sub-region.

Known as the Lancang in China, the Mekong River is vital to Southeast Asia, where more than 60 million people rely on it and its tributaries for food, water and transport.

The world's 12th-longest river, the Mekong runs nearly 5,000 kilometres from the Tibetan Plateau and down into mainland Southeast Asia before emptying into the South China Sea in Vietnam. The river's basin is home to up to 1,700 fish species, making it the most diverse basin after the Amazon and Congo.

Yet the river is also another potential source of regional tensions due to an increasing number of hydroelectric projects that are altering the flow and raising concerns of ecological damage. Vietnam, already locked in conflict with Beijing over territory in the South China Sea, says it is at particular risk of adverse effects.

China is the driving force behind many of the projects, having already built eight dams on the river since the 1990s and currently building or planning more than a dozen more. Laos is home to most of the dams planned for the river's lower stretch.

China is also seeking to have parts or the river dredged or rapids cleared so that large cargo ships can navigate. Environmentalists have warned this could have dire consequences on the ecosystem.

In the two years since the forum's establishment, China has set aside billions of dollars to support 45 projects including water resource research centres and cooperation on connectivity projects, industrial capacity, border trade, agriculture and poverty alleviation.

The forum is seen as a rival to the Mekong River Commission, which has been around for more than 60 years but excludes China and Myanmar.


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