Chiangrai Times – Foreign Ministers of Cambodia, Lao PDR, Thailand, and Viet Nam and the U.S. Secretary of State met in Phnom Penh, Cambodia for the 5th Lower Mekong Initiative (LMI) Ministerial Meeting.
They formally welcomed Myanmar as the sixth member of the LMI. The six Ministers emphasized the value of the LMI in narrowing the development gap among ASEAN Member States by focusing on building regional capacity in the Mekong subregion to address transnational challenges, particularly in the areas of environment and health, and to promote education and regional connectivity.
The Ministers expressed their approval of the addition of a new “Agriculture and Food Security” pillar, which would be co-chaired by Myanmar, to the LMI Plan of Action and Concept Paper. They tasked the next LMI Regional Working Group to elaborate on the content of this new pillar.
The Ministers also approved the renaming of the “Environment” pillar to “Environment and Water,” and welcomed the broadening of water-related programming under LMI to address the range of water-related challenges facing the region, including water resources management and development, flood and drought management and forecasting, improving water quality, and expanding access to clean water and sanitation, in both rural and urban areas.
The Ministers noted with appreciation Viet Nam’s concept papers on underground water management and the management of water flow in the dry season for inclusion under the reformulated “Environment and Water” pillar, and they mutually decided to consider these proposals at the next LMI Regional Working Group. They were also pleased to note Thailand’s offer to co-chair a new “Energy Security” pillar and look forward to receiving a concept paper from Thailand on the proposed pillar to consider during the next LMI Regional Working Group.
The Ministers also endorsed incorporating the existing “Infrastructure” Pillar into a new “Connectivity” pillar, which would more closely align collective efforts under LMI with the objectives under the ASEAN Master Plan on Connectivity.
The Ministers welcomed Secretary Clinton’s announcement of the Asia-Pacific Strategic Engagement Initiative (APSEI), a major new development initiative designed to deepen and sustain U.S. engagement in the Asia Pacific that includes $50 million in new U.S. programs supporting the LMI over a three year period.
These new programs are intended to complement and dramatically expand existing efforts to bolster regional capacity to address specific cross-border challenges and promote institutional and people-to-people connectivity in the Mekong sub region. They also acknowledged the importance of encouraging independent strategic thinking on LMI programs and priorities and decided to begin discussions at the next LMI Regional Working Group on the establishment of a track-two LMI group comprised of Eminent and Expert Persons (EEPs) from each LMI partner country.
The Ministers jointly decided to begin discussions on developing a regionally-based LMI Coordinating Network, which would strengthen the LMI through enhanced policy dialogue and information exchange and help ensure greater coordination among partner countries in the design and execution of LMI programs and activities. As the first step towards developing a regional coordinating network, the Ministers welcomed the establishment of a regionally-based interim coordination hub, which will also strengthen the use of the virtual secretariat
The Ministers jointly expressed their approval for the Joint Statement on Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment, and welcomed the convening of the Policy Dialogue on the same issues in Siem Reap. They looked forward to hearing the outcomes and recommendations of the Policy Dialogue and pledged to work together to ensure that women and girls are fully integrated – both as change agents and beneficiaries – in all aspects of their development work in the region.
The Ministers announced their intention to redouble efforts to manage collaboratively the Mekong River in the spirit of the 1995 Agreement on the Cooperation for the Sustainable Development of the Mekong River Basin. They reaffirmed the role of the Mekong River Commission (MRC) as the regional platform to promote and coordinate sustainable Mekong River Basin management and development for the countries’ mutual benefit and the people’s well-being.
They praised the long-standing cooperation with MRC development partners and seek to continue efforts to reach development decisions based on sound science with full engagement of affected stakeholders. To this end, they welcomed the U.S. announcement of $ 1 million dollars over three years support for a MRC’s study on the sustainable management and development of the Mekong River. They also emphasized the importance of strengthening the long-term technical capacity of the MRC and noted that the U.S. announcement of a $2 million grant to support the MRC’s fisheries program would help aid this effort.
The Ministers acknowledged the continued success of the Forecast Mekong Project, which is conducted through the partnership between the U.S. Geological Survey and national governments and universities in the lower Mekong region. Forecast Mekong builds regional capacity related to addressing climate change challenges. They conveyed their appreciation for the announcement of additional programming through Forecast Mekong, which would address issues pertaining to water quality in the lower Mekong Basin.
The Ministers welcomed a new USAID-funded sustainable infrastructure planning and development program designed to build capacity among countries to meet international environmental and socioeconomic standards for major infrastructure investments and projects in the region. The Ministers also welcomed the recently launched collaboration to reduce wildlife trafficking through USAID’s Asia Regional Response to Endangered Species Trafficking (ARREST).
The Ministers acknowledged the success of LMI English Project: Professional Communication Skills for Leaders, which greatly contributes to the capacity building of LMI human resources to cope with challenges of the upcoming ASEAN Community.
The Ministers welcomed the USAID-funded Control and Prevention of Malaria (CAP) project, which builds a coordinated approach between Mekong countries in the border regions to prevent and control the spread of artemisinin-resistant Malaria. The Ministers also noted the success of the U.S. Pacific Command-organized November 2011 health conference focused on identifying resource requirements, communication strategies, and response mechanisms for pandemic preparedness and response, and the Asia Pacific Center for Security Studies-led workshop held in June 2012, which considered how best to mitigate security impacts of diseases with pandemic potential.
The Ministers welcomed the outcomes of the Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves – Vietnam Stakeholder consultation and strategic planning workshop held in July 2012.
The Ministers affirmed that the LMI is an essential mechanism for furthering regional cooperation and enhancing national and local capacity in the Mekong countries in addressing some of the most pressing challenges of the 21st century. The Ministers also expressed their desire to continue programs on education, food security, environment, and health and programs to help advance connectivity. There was consensus to continue this effort through senior officials’ meetings, regional working groups, additional consultations, and targeted program activities.
The Ministers look forward to the 3nd Regional Working Group Meeting in Thailand, which is scheduled for September 27-28, 2012. The Ministers also looked forward to the convening of the sixth LMI Ministerial Meeting in 2013 in Brunei Darussalam.