Japan announces plan to develop Mekong region

AP, BANGKOK

Tue, May 03, 2016 - Page 14

The Japanese foreign minister announced a multibillion-dollar initiative yesterday to promote development in Southeast Asia’s Mekong region, which encompasses parts of Vietnam, Laos and Thailand through which the river flows.

In a speech at Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok, Japanese Minister of Foreign Affairs Fumio Kishida affirmed the importance of Southeast Asia’s economic prosperity to Japan.

He pledged ¥750 billion (US$7 billion) in funding during the next three years to support development and growth in the region.

The initiative is to help promote “connectivity” within Southeast Asian nations and Japan, through funding in infrastructure and development of human resources.

Thailand has become a key manufacturing and export hub for Japanese manufacturers such as automakers Toyota Motor Corp and Honda Motor Co.

“Invigorating the flow of goods and people by connecting the region through roads, bridges and railways is indispensable for promoting economic development,” Kishida said, adding that Japan’s cooperation would go beyond just building infrastructure.

Over the next three years, “we will make use of funds amounting to ¥750 billion toward cooperation with the Mekong region,” Kishida added.

Specific details have not been announced, but he said Japan would like to work together with the Mekong nations to create a framework to support the various efforts, including regional issues and theme-oriented support, in a detailed manner.

“I am expecting the day when, as a result of these efforts, I can depart from Bangkok eastward in the morning, and arrive in Ho Chi Minh City at night and enjoy pho for dinner,” he said.

Kishida also renewed his call for the establishment of a code of conduct in the South China Sea, where Taiwan China, Vietnam, Brunei, Malaysia the Philippines have competing territorial claims, and that prosperity can only achieved if there is peace and stability in the region.

“In this region, there are issues of terrorism, extremism, and ensuring maritime safety and security,” Kishida said.

“There are multitudes of issues now facing our ASEAN partners,” he said. “We need to face these issues together and maintain stability in this region. What is necessary is respect for diversity and what is fundamental for that is the rule of law.”

Referring to Thailand’s political situation and its military government, Kishida said he hoped that the people of Thailand would overcome the difficult challenges and “play a more active role in the region and international community.”

The visit to Thailand is part of a regional tour that includes stops in China, Myanmar, Laos and Vietnam.