Asian Vision Institute (AVI) and the Embassy of Japan in Cambodia organised a seminar on March 18 to share perspectives on the challenges faced in the Mekong sub-region and look for possible ways forward in order to find solutions to them.
Chhem Kieth Rethy, a member of the board of directors for AVI, said that the Mekong sub-region is one of the world’s fastest growing economies and is attracting the attention and engagement of various countries – including Japan, India, South Korea, the US and China.
The region is also facing many challenges such as great power rivalries and the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic.
“The rivalry between the [US and China] makes it difficult for small states to navigate between them, and it makes it particularly difficult to ensure that they are [not being compromised or exploited] by major powers while also trying to secure their national interests,” he said.
Rethy added that the region is also facing other security problems such as water and energy shortages, natural disasters, climate change and marine plastic pollution.
Japan’s ambassador to Cambodia, Masahiro Mikami, said additional challenges for the region include the Covid-19 pandemic and economic recovery in its aftermath, the current problems in Myanmar and preventing the geopolitical rivalry between the superpowers from developing into a full-scale conflict.
“Cambodia is geographically located in the centre of the Mekong region and it has endured major tragedies and been the victim of merciless international politics in the past.
“We must rely on Cambodia to use their experiences wisely by having a stable and balanced approach to international diplomacy. This is especially important now because Cambodia will undertake the role of the ASEAN Chairmanship next year,” Mikami said.
Thailand’s ambassador to Cambodia Panyarak Poolthup said that to build a peaceful, prosperous and sustainable Mekong sub-region, all of the countries in the region have to pull their efforts and resources together to create a complementary synergy.
“I will also reaffirm that Thailand is fully committed and ready to work with all member countries and partners in [all of the Mekong cooperation frameworks] to achieve such goals,” he said.
Sok Soken, secretary of state for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, said the world is going through a period of uncertainty which will require the countries in the region to stay committed to multilateralism because it is an essential tool for regional peace, development and cooperation.
Soken said he believes that Japan’s commitment to a free and open Indo-pacific would help to ensure peace, stability and prosperity while enhancing connectivity in the region.
He added that Japan’s Indo-Pacific policy also needs to promote harmony and synergy to compliment the work of ASEAN and the other cooperating frameworks in the region.
“Cambodia believes that all Mekong frameworks should be focused on cooperation and should not be used as part of any nation’s containment policy or as a catalyst for the bifurcation of the world order,” Soken said.
Kamei Haruko, the representative in Cambodia for JICA – the government of Japan’s international aid agency – said that they will continue to assist the region by building connectivity in the physical, institutional and personal senses of the term.
She said JICA will also focus on building a Covid-19 resilient health system in Cambodia, which would also lead to a more resilient Mekong, ASEAN and Indo-Pacific region.
“We’ve always placed a continuous focus on human resource development, because none of these development goals will be achieved without quality human resources,” she said.