Landmark Hotel, Vientiane

Vice Minister Bounkeut, Excellencies, Distinguished Delegates, and Ladies and Gentlemen:

As you know, the Lower Mekong Initiative as created as a result of a meeting in 2009 between Secretary of State Clinton and the Foreign Ministers of the Lower Mekong countries as a vehicle for cooperation in facing shared challenges and opportunities in the Lower Mekong region.

Cooperation and collaboration on issues such as climate change, public health and energy security is essential.  We all are facing these same challenges.

The United States is committed to utilizing its expertise and experience to support LMI countries as they face these challenges.  We will continue to share best practices and provide assistance where we can as you work to develop in an efficient, well-governed, and sustainable manner, especially as you move towards the ASEAN Economic Community in 2015. 

In my first six months in Laos, I’ve had the pleasure of witnessing several LMI programs in action.  In the English Language for Specialized Purposes classes, I’ve seen bright young leaders in Laos work hard to improve their English in order to better communicate with colleagues across the region.  We are also working closely with the Lao government on the LMI Smart Infrastructure for the Mekong program, to help ensure the sustainable development of hydropower.

Many of the issues on your agenda will benefit from discussion across sectors.

Take, for example, infectious disease outbreaks.  Whether naturally caused, intentionally produced, or accidentally released, these outbreaks are a significant threat to human health and the global economy. 

Health officials cannot handle these threats alone:  governments need to better integrate the activities of groups throughout society to counter disease outbreaks: people working in health, agriculture, the military, civil society and the private sector all must work together, often across borders.

The need for this cooperation was noted by President Barack Obama, who recently launched the Global Health Security Agenda with the World Health Organization, the Food and Agriculture Organization, and 29 partner governments, including Vietnam.  The Global Health Security Agenda will accelerate progress towards a world safe from infectious disease threats, and set global health security as an international priority. 

By tackling public health at a local, national, regional, and global level, we can ensure the safety of our communities.  The Lower Mekong Initiative plays an important role in the regional architecture, and today the LMI Health Pillar will discuss a way forward, and explore how LMI can best meet the needs of health officials throughout the region.

Every Pillar will follow a similar path, discussing issues and objectives that benefit from increased cooperation.  During the meetings, you will hear about progress on different projects in each Pillar and define the first tasking for the LMI Eminent and Expert Persons Group.  In doing so, you will consider questions such as, “What shared challenge is particularly vexing, and how can collaboration overcome it?” and “What else can we do to strengthen the bonds between our countries?”

Last, but not least, you will begin to discuss and develop themes for the LMI and Friends of the Lower Mekong Ministerial meetings, so when our Foreign Ministers meet, they can agree on mutually productive ways forward.

Over the next two days, I hope all delegates will hold a frank, stimulating, and productive dialog.  By working together, you all will play a role in securing a bright future for the Lower Mekong region.

Thank you.