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Ensuring stability of Mekong nations

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Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe (centre) delivers a speech during the Mekong-Japan Summit Meeting in ToKyo in 2015. AFP

Ensuring stability of Mekong nations

The Japan News/ANN: Bolstering support to the Indochina countries, which have been making remarkable growth, will lead to the prosperity and stability of the region. The support must be provided steadily.

Japan and five countries in the Mekong River Basin, including Thailand and Vietnam, have held a summit in Tokyo and adopted a joint statement titled “Tokyo Strategy 2018”, which outlines a three-year cooperation plan. The strategy gives priority to strengthening connections within the region, cultivation of human resources and environmental conservation.

Sandwiched by China and India and located close to the South China Sea and the Indian Ocean, the Mekong Basin is a strategic zone for land and maritime transportation.

Rich in resources and labor power, the basin is also the core of development in Southeast Asia. Deepening relationships with the area in both political and economic aspects can serve the national interest of Japan.

In the past three years Japan has provided more than ¥750 billion ($6.68 billion) in official development assistance for the five Mekong countries and cooperated in such areas as the expansion and improvement of the “economic corridor” linking them by arterial roads and port facilities. It is adequate to aim for raising the level of the regional economy as a whole by facilitating the movements of goods and people.

The five Mekong countries differ in their stage of economic development. It is essential to provide assistance meticulously to meet the conditions of individual nations and thus promote self-sustaining development. This will lead to enhancing Japan’s credibility.

In addition to the expansion and improvement of infrastructure, it is necessary to provide in-person assistance, including technological cooperation and fostering of administrative officials.

A matter of concern is that China has been stepping up its influence in Cambodia, Laos and Myanmar by utilizing its rich funds as leverage. The move must be part of China’s Belt and Road Initiative for establishing a gigantic economic zone.

When China backs up the development of other countries forcibly in disregard of their financial strength, environment and human rights issues, it could impede their healthy development. Japan’s constructive engagement with such countries is indispensable.
Concerning the status quo of the South China Sea, “concern” was expressed in the joint communique with China’s moves to increase its military footprint in that sea in mind. Peaceful and stable oceans are important foundations for economic activities. In close cooperation with the United States and Australia, Japan should persistently ask China to exercise self-restraint.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe conveyed to Aung San Suu Kyi, state counselor of Myanmar, his intention to assist in dealing with the issue of the Rohingya Islamic minority group. Abe emphasized that his government will sustain efforts to resolve the issue.

Tokyo plans to support housing construction and activities by an independent investigation team in preparation for the return of the Rohingya refugees.

Since last year, Myanmar’s security authorities have driven out the Rohingya, generating a great number of refugees. Myanmar has been strongly criticised over this.

It is imperative for Japan to sustain Myanmar, which is isolated from the international community, and encourage it to steadily advance democracy.

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