Cambodia’s Foreign Minister Prak Sokhonn has just issued a statement for the Mekong-Lancang Cooperation (MLC) week, which highlighted three key messages. First, the Mekong region is one of the growth centres in the world as well as a new strategic frontier of Asia. Second, the Mekong region can offer more than its own weight. Third, Cambodia is committed to realising “a community of shared future of peace and prosperity” in the region.
“Building an open regional integration and a staunch multilateralism policy, the Mekong region can accelerate its efforts to narrow the development gap to build a strong Asean Community, where each country, driven by a win-win cooperation spirit, interacts with each other to promote a dialogue for peace, cooperation and sustainable development for the Mekong region as a whole,” the statement reads.
MLC has emerged to be one of the leading multilateral cooperation mechanisms in the Mekong region since its inception in 2015, with a relatively large amount of financial commitment from China. In 2016, China committed a $300 million special fund earmarked for a period of five years. Cambodia has received quite a significant amount of financial development under this fund.
MLC is characterized by pragmatism, high efficiency and practical cooperation projects and based on the culture of equality, sincerity, mutual assistance, and affinity. Although it was initiated and funded by China, the decision-making mode of MLC is based on consensus and sovereign equality. From the Cambodian perspective, China does not have any intention or interest to become a hegemonic power, but just aims to be a centre or hub of economic dynamism and connectivity.
MLC have identified three cooperation pillars, from political and security issues to economic and sustainable development, and social, cultural and people-to-people exchanges. Also, the five key priority areas are connectivity, production capacity, cross-border economic cooperation, water resources, agriculture and poverty reduction, and other related projects.
Cambodia has proposed that the MLC members consider establishing its international secretariat in order to better develop and coordinate policies, mobilise resources, and multiply development impacts. The secretariat will be formed in the future, as currently there is no consensus yet among the MLC members. There is concern by some countries that the establishment of MLC international secretariat might lead to the marginalisation of the Mekong River Commission.
The main trans-boundary challenges that MLC members face are resource management and trans-border crimes. Regional countries need to put more efforts and resources in sustainable governance of trans-boundary water resources and the prevention and resolution of resource-driven tensions. Water diplomacy should be one the key priority cooperation areas.
The Mekong region is emerging to be one the most dynamic regions in Asia and the world at large. With young and dynamic workforces and an entrepreneurial society, the Mekong region is a new economic centre of Asia. MLC will continue to play its relevant role in advancing regional integration and connectivity.
By working closely together guided by the spirit of mutual respect, mutual understanding and mutual interest, the people of the Mekong will further benefit from a region of peace, sustainable development and shared prosperity. People is the defining factor in regional community building. If we could further harness our cultural diversity and diverse ideas, we could promote innovation and develop our common identity and strength. The future of the Mekong is in the hands of its people and the capacity to create and innovate.