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Mekong nations, China push for more trade, investment, connectivity

The six Mekong-Lancang Cooperation (MLC) countries agreed on the need to elevate their cooperation from rapid-expansion to a comprehensive stage as their foreign ministers met in Vientiane on Thursday.
The ministers of the MLC member countries - China, Myanmar, Laos, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam – reached the agreement at their fifth meeting, Chinese State Councilor and Minister of Foreign Affairs Wang Yi told a press conference shortly after the meeting.
Participants welcomed the recommendation by the Global Centre for Mekong Study that the MLC countries jointly create the Mekong-Lancang Economic Development Belt.

The ministers reaffirmed the need to further enhance regional connectivity by jointly promoting the MLC Economic Development Belt and to explore the possibility of synergising the MLC Plan of Action on Connectivity with global transport infrastructure – the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), the Master Plan on Asean Connectivity (MPAC) 2025, and the Asean-China New Western Land-Sea Corridor.
This would enable quality economic development and industrial integration as well as promoting supply chain efficiency in the Mekong region.
“We need to step up our efforts to build the MLC Economic Development Belt,” Mr Wang told the media through an interpreter in the presence of Lao Minister of Foreign Affairs Saleumxay Kommasith.
“Our recommendation is to start with trade connectivity and consider linking the MLC with the new international land-sea corridor, and enhance infrastructure connectivity and trade and customs facilitation.”
The ministers agreed on the need to strengthen cooperation mechanisms in agriculture, especially with regard to mutual recognition and certification of farm product standards so that more and more of their products could enter each other’s markets.
“We welcome more Mekong agricultural products into the Chinese market,” Mr Wang said.
More and more products from the Mekong River countries have entered Chinese markets, while China’s enterprises have been active in the sub-region, the Chinese minister added.
The ministers underlined the need to work together to respond to the severe drought the Mekong River region is currently facing due to inadequate rainfall. Mr Wang said China has increased water outflow from the Lancang River (known as the Mekong in downstream countries) to help mitigate the drought.
He assured his counterparts that China will also share year-round hydrological data relating to the Lancang River with the Mekong countries to ensure the sustainable use of water resources. “We also agree to strengthen such cooperation within the framework [of MLC],” said Mr Wang who, together with Mr Saleumxay, co-chaired the meeting. Mr Wang described the meeting as “highly productive”.
Welcoming Minister Wang’s address, Mr Saleumxay said cooperation under the MLC framework has yielded tangible results for the region. Projects and programmes implemented under the 45 Early Harvest Projects and 270 MLC Special Fund projects over past years reached US$80 million, bringing benefits to the people of the Mekong region. In addition, China has provided 600 scholarships and more than 1,000 training opportunities to Mekong countries.
In the context of Laos, the MLC framework has brought great benefits and offered huge potential, Mr Saleumxay said.
He explained that the MLC placed great importance on connectivity cooperation, which will boost Laos’ efforts to transform the country from landlocked to a land link within the region.
Also, China’s 1.4 billion population offers huge market potential for Lao products, especially agricultural goods.
Yesterday’s meeting reviewed the implementation of the MLC Five-Year Plan of Action 2018-2022.    
The ministers endorsed the List of New Projects to be supported by the MLC Special Fund for the year 2020 announced by China and praised China for providing continued assistance and support.                   Established in 2016, the MLC focuses on five priority areas – connectivity, cross border economic cooperation, production capacity, water resources and agriculture, and poverty reduction.

By Souksakhone Vaenkeo
(Latest Update February 21, 2020)


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