HO CHI MINH CITY – A prosperous and environmentally sustainable Mekong region will help build a strong and united ASEAN and contribute to maintaining peace, stability, cooperation and development in Asia and the world.
The statement was made by Deputy Foreign Minister Bui Thanh Son at a meeting of the Lower Mekong countries held in HCM City on April 25.
“We believe in the Lower Mekong Initiative (LMI) and its great potential and the benefits its advancement can bring about,” he added.
The two-day working-group meeting, which ends on April 26, addresses trans-boundary issues, regional integration and the development gap in ASEAN member countries.
Hosted by Vietnam’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the US Department of State, the meeting welcomed participants from Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand and the US as well as representatives from the “Friends of the Lower Mekong” and the ASEAN Secretariat.
Michael Fuchs, the US State Department’s deputy assistance secretary for East Asian and Pacific Affairs, said that the LMI has made impressive strides since it began four years ago.
He noted that the region was witnessing a period of transformation and economic growth and integration that will create unprecedented opportunities for the 230 million citizens who call the lower Mekong sub-region home.
“While we continue to encourage greater development gains, we should also remain alert to the considerable challenges that pose a risk to the stability and growing prosperity of this region,” he said.
While there has been improved infrastructure development and cross-border linkages and mobility, greater environmental degradation and emerging pandemic threats are imminent.
These realities indicated that connectivity must be improved and that greater opportunities for private enterprise and entrepreneurship should be encouraged, he said.
The growing demands for energy must be countered with the management of natural resources in a sustainable manner, Fuchs said, adding that these challenges could only be addressed effectively through greater transnational cooperation.
LMI has helped the area measure the effects of climate change, train pharmacists in identifying counterfeit and sub-standard medicines, and increase opportunities for workers to advance their professional usage of English.
Fuchs also noted that the US views ASEAN as a key component of its broader engagement in the Asia-Pacific.
“Our efforts under LMI are meant to spur regional integration within ASEAN and help build capacity among member states to close the development gap,” he said.
Other issues of common concern are health, energy security, agriculture and food security.
Speaking at a seminar on the sidelines of the meeting, Deputy Foreign Minister Son said that all LMI members have agreed to promote the participation of the private sector, especially public-private partnerships (PPP).
He said that training courses for staff and experts working on PPP projects were necessary.
Bill Magennis, managing partner of the Australian law firm Allens Pte Ltd, said that public-private partnerships are one of the fastest ways to develop infrastructure.