Cambodia and the Mekong Region

The Khmer Times, 7 December 2016

The Mekong region has drawn remarkable attention this year from regional stakeholders and international development partners alike.
A series of regional events have been organized to deepen regional cooperation and integration.
The first World Economic Forum on the Mekong Region was organized in Hanoi in October, right ahead of the 8th CLMV Summit (Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Vietnam) and the 7th ACMEC Summit (Ayeyawady-Chao Phraya-Mekong Economic Cooperation Strategy).
Cambodia hosted the 9th CLV Development Triangle Summit (Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam) in November in Siem Reap.
“Regional integration” has become the core strategy of Cambodia’s foreign policy since it became a member of Asean in 1999. But with limited resources and capacity, Cambodia has not been able to play a leading role in Asean.
In the last few years, Cambodia has shown more commitment with a reinforced role in promoting regional integration, especially in the Mekong region, through various initiatives to accelerate functional cooperation.
Economic pragmatism is the core strategy of Cambodia’s foreign policy towards to region. It refers to the perception and behavior of a state in aligning foreign policy with national economic development, transforming the international environment into a source of national growth and diversifying strategic partnerships based on economic calculations.
Shared development, sustainable development, inclusive growth, win-win cooperation and common destiny are the key words in implementing a foreign policy driven by economic pragmatism.
As a less developed economy in the region, Cambodia has pursued an outward-looking foreign policy, accompanied with strong interest in promoting and realizing a more inclusive regional community by effectively narrowing the regional development gap.
Linking regional integration with a national development agenda facilitates institutional harmonization, regional connectivity and poverty reduction. And harnessing and synergizing various regional cooperation initiatives will further bolster regional integration.
Cambodia perceives regional integration as a means to further advance its national interests. The Mekong region is the main gateway for Cambodia to reach out to the region and beyond.
Cambodia, being geopolitically sandwiched by two big historical rivals, has become more confident in engaging and strengthening ties with its neighbors thanks to enhanced political trust, which has been built and nurtured over the years.
The shared principles of non-interference, consultation and consensus, win-win cooperation and equality significantly contribute to trust building, which in turn leads to the enhancement of regional cooperation and integration.
Speaking at the first World Economic Forum on the Mekong in October, Prime Minister Hun Sen emphasized “maintaining regional peace and stability” and promoting “regional cooperation to address key bottlenecks to regional competitiveness” by investing more in infrastructure development, energy and digital connectivity and facilitating free and effective movement of trade and investments.
At the 8th CLMV Summit, he elaborated on physical connectivity through developing transport and energy infrastructure. He also called for magnifying “regional production bases and networks,” strengthening regional coordination agriculture development policy and enhancing regional cooperation on skills development.
At the 7th ACMEC Summit, he urged regional countries to review and develop a cooperation mechanism to better manage the flow of labor and to fight against human trafficking. A respect for labor rights, as well as social and financial services provided to migrant workers, needs to be promoted, he said.
He also suggested the Mekong countries strengthen cooperation in rice production and trade facilitation to improve the standards of living for farmers.
Creating an association of rice exporting countries is expected to strengthen the global position of the Mekong countries.
Infrastructure financing is one of the key challenges for the Mekong countries. Cambodia needs to rely on financial support from China, Japan and other development partners to finance its huge infrastructure needs.
Another challenge for the Mekong region is how to sustainably manage the Mekong River. The construction of hydropower dams along the main stream of the Mekong River, according to objective studies, directly threatens the livelihoods of millions of people.
In order to play a more relevant role in the Mekong region, Cambodia needs to aim for being a role model in sustainable development and liberal democracy in the region.
That is the vision and value that Cambodia should pursue.

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