Lancang-Mekong Cooperation Summit: The Key Agenda

The Khmer Times, 11 January

The second biannual Lancang-Mekong Cooperation Leaders’ Meeting has been taking place in Phnom Penh, with the participation of the leaders from six countries in the Mekong region – Cambodia, China, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand, and Vietnam.

The Prime Minister of China, Li Keqiang, Prime Minister of Laos, Thongloun Sisoulith, Vice President of Myanmar, Myint Swe, Prime Minister of Thailand, Prayut Chan-o-cha, and Prime Minister of Vietnam, Nguyen Xuan Phuc, are attending the meeting.

The summit is another milestone in deepening political trust, fostering practical cooperation and promoting inclusive regional integration.

LMC is an important sub-regional mechanism in promoting a comprehensive regional connectivity and fostering practical cooperation in the Mekong region as well in the wider region given it is an open and inclusive initiative.

LMC also contributes to other sub-regional cooperation mechanisms such as the Greater Mekong Subregion, the South-South cooperation and the implementation of the UN 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

LMC complements Asean in three ways. First, it complements well the Asean Master Plan of Connectivity with the focus on infrastructure development, institution building and coordination and people-to-people ties.

Second, LMC contributes to narrowing the development gaps within Asean. The least developed economies, or CLMV countries, are all located in the Mekong region. Hence developing the Mekong region will assist these countries to catch up with other Asean members.

Third, the LMC further energizes the Asean vision of building a people-oriented and people-centered Asean. One of the priority cooperation areas under the LMC is poverty reduction and human connectivity within the region.

Building a “community of shared future” reflects the core vision and value of the LMC, which echoes the spirit of new regionalism in Southeast Asia.

Win-win cooperation or positive sum game has become the guiding principle of international relations in the region, and it can become the norm of global governance in the new world order.

The key agenda of the second LMC summit are to discuss the outcomes of the past cooperation, adopt five-year work plans to concretize the vision and goals of the LMC, and to operationalise the projects to be funded under the LMC Special Fund of $300 million.

Under the theme “Our River of Peace and Sustainable Development”, the summit has adopted four documents including the Phnom Penh Declaration, five-year action 2018-2022, joint list of 2nd batch of cooperation projects and reports of the six joint working groups on priority areas.

Under the LMC Special Fund, 132 projects proposed by the LMC member countries will be funded and fully operationalized. The projects are to be implemented by the respective line ministries and agencies, with the coordination support from the LMC national secretariat.

Outcomes-oriented cooperation makes the LMC attractive and meaningful. Rather than a talk shop, the LMC focuses on practical cooperation.

To effectively develop and implement LMC projects, Cambodia has set up six joint working groups on interconnectivity, poverty reduction, water resources cooperation, cross-border economy cooperation, agriculture and production capacity.

Other areas that the LMC should also focus on in the future are education, public health and environmental protection. Water resources management and conservancy are critical to the livelihood of millions of people who rely on the quality and flow of the mighty Mekong River.

The LMC needs to further promote a rules-based water governance regime, in close cooperation with the Mekong River Commission, to avoid potential conflicts and tensions between the riparian countries over the usage of the common resources.

Establishing a hotline for communication in response to emergencies and developing a code of conduct related to the Mekong River would help further build confidence among the LMC member countries.

Addressing water-energy-food-climate change security nexus is vital to sustainable development in the region.

Cooperation on public health and education would help reduce income inequality within the county and the region. Inequality is the root cause of social and political ills, causing dampening effects on economic growth.

Other areas that the LMC should work on are liveable sustainable urban planning and development and digital economy.

Rapid urbanisation will continue for decades, requiring proactive policies to provide land, housing and services for the new urban residents.

Digital revolution and automation are gaining steam – it creates both opportunities and challenges. Creating jobs within a digital era is a challenge for governments.

Building a highly skilled workforce needs major investment in education, infrastructure and health services.

Developing a shared vision, forging common interest, promoting a shared responsibility, instrumenting collective leadership, strengthening institutional capacity and mobilising resources are the foundations of successful multilateral cooperation frameworks.

Putting the people first should be the guiding principle of the LMC.

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