Japan-Mekong strategy aims to boost quality infrastructure


Japan and five Southeast Asian nations along the Mekong River adopted Tuesday a new three-year strategy centering on improving connectivity through promotion of "quality infrastructure" building for regional development.

The document endorsed by Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and the leaders of Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand and Vietnam at the Mekong-Japan Summit Meeting also cited human resource development and environment protection as main pillars of cooperation.

On regional security, the leaders reaffirmed their commitment to addressing tensions over North Korea's nuclear and missile programs and the South China Sea, where China has been expanding its military clout, according to the document.

Under the "Tokyo Strategy 2018 for Mekong-Japan Cooperation," the leaders of the Mekong countries welcomed Japan's policy to realize a "free and open" Indo-Pacific, designed to promote the stability and prosperity of the region based on rule-based order and free trade.

Abe and Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen, Laotian Prime Minister Thongloun Sisoulith, Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi, Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha and Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc hailed the progress in physical infrastructure development, enhancing land, maritime and air connectivity in the region.

The Mekong region is seen as a promising market and an important destination for infrastructure exports for Japanese companies as its combined population stood at 238 million and its aggregate gross domestic product totaled $781 billion in 2017, according to the International Monetary Fund.

Tokyo also views the Mekong area as geopolitically important as it is located between India and China, two major powers in the region, and faces vital shipping lanes in the South China Sea, Japanese officials said.

The leaders also agreed on the need to modernize customs to facilitate cross-border security and customs clearance and pledged to support the participation of non-Mekong countries in the supply chain of the Mekong region.

They confirmed the significance of human resource development in light of the advancement of artificial intelligence, digital related areas and international business.

They also called for accelerating progress toward achieving universal health coverage by 2030, or ensuring that every person can obtain the health care services they need without suffering financial hardship, and promoting collaboration in the field of education.

With the aim of realizing a "Green Mekong," the leaders cited measures against climate change and marine debris pollution, water resource management and disaster risk reduction as their priority areas, according to the document.

On North Korea, the leaders welcomed ongoing diplomatic efforts, including the first-ever U.S.-North Korean summit in June, as a step toward the comprehensive resolution of the outstanding issues involving the country.

They also called for the realization of Pyongyang's "complete, verifiable, and irreversible dismantlement of all weapons of mass destruction and ballistic missiles of all ranges" in accordance with U.N. resolutions.

As for the South China Sea, they "took note of some concerns" over the situation, including land reclamation and activities in the area, alluding to China's muscle-flexing without singling out the country by name.

The leaders expressed their readiness to maintain freedom of navigation in and overflight above the South China Sea. Among the participating countries, Vietnam has overlapping territorial claims with China in the waters.

The Mekong-Japan Summit has been convened every year since 2009, with the aim of pursuing sustainable development and narrowing the development gap in the region. Japan hosts the gathering every three years.


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