The Greater Mekong Subregion: An Emerging Asian Growth Center

22 December 2014

PHNOM PENH (Khmer Times) – The Greater Mekong Subregion is one of the most dynamic and fastest growth regions in the world. It is emerging as another growth center in the Asia Pacific.
“The rich human and natural resource endowments of the Mekong region have made it a new frontier of Asian economic growth,” noted the Asian Development Bank.
The 5th Greater Mekong Subregion Summit, which concluded last weekend in Bangkok, signified another milestone in deepening Subregional economic integration. It is one of the cornerstones of foreign economic policy of the member countries: Cambodia, China (Yunan Province and Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region), Laos, Myanmar, Thailand, and Vietnam.
The summit reinforced the leader’s commitment to the program and its goals, assessing the past achievements and arising challenges, adopting a broad strategic directions for key initiatives, and endorsing the Regional Investment Framework Implementation Plan 2014-2018. This plan identifies 92 priority projects with the total cost of USD30.1 billion.
Hardware infrastructure connections such as roads and rails have improved over the years. The report by the Asian Development Bank highlighted the progress made in fostering physical connectivity in the Subregion particularly the 4th International Mekong Bridge between Thailand and Lao PDR, the Noi Bai-Lao Cai Expressway in Vietnam, the construction of the Myawaddy to Kawkareik Road in Myanmar, and the Mekong Bridge at Neak Loeung in Cambodia to be completed in 2015.
Such infrastructure development projects will facilitate the flow of goods, services, and people in the region, contributing to the creation of a seamless cross-border cooperation and exchanges. It collectively, at least in principle, generates a common pool of regional economic resources and endowments, which in turn leads to joint development and shared prosperity. The next step would be to transform these transport corridors into economic corridors with the generation of robust trade, investment, and tourism activities.
But, persistent development issues confronting the region are weak public and private institutions, inequality, and environmental degradation. The gap between the rich and the poor within the Subregion and at the national level across the Subregion keeps widening. Deforestation, overfishing, and the construction of hydropower dams along the mainstream Mekong River are threatening the ecosystem and biodiversity of the Subregion.
The regional group needs to double its efforts in bolstering cooperation in the areas of human resource development, institutional capacity building, good governance, democratic participation, social inclusiveness, social protection, and environmental protection. Under the theme: “Committed to Inclusive and Sustainable Development in the GMS”, the summit clearly pinpointed the necessity to focus on the issues related to inclusiveness and sustainability.
To strengthen state capacity to implement the agreements and policy guidelines is a must. The development partners and more developed economies in the region need to double their support to the less developed economies in bridging the institutional capacity and leadership gaps. Otherwise, it is hard to implement the “3-C” formula of connectivity, competiveness, and community.
There is a need for collective efforts to facilitate cross border exchanges and connectivity. New areas of cooperation should include eradication of corruption at the border checkpoints, decentralization, enhancing the capacity and accountability of the local governments, and encouraging people’s participation in local development projects especially along the border areas.
The Subregion with a population of more than 320 million  and with a combined GDP of more than $1 trillion definitely is an attractive destination for investors from the region and beyond. Subregional integration plays a crucial and complementary role in broader East Asian Community building. The Asian Development Bank and China play key role in funding the GMS connectivity projects.
China is going to invest more in deepening economic and cultural ties and interdependence with  countries in the Subregion as part of its effort to realize its economic belt vision or a new Silk Road project.

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