Japan pledges 600 billion yen in aid for Mekong development over next 3 yrs

TOKYO (Kyodo) — Japan pledged Saturday to provide about 600 billion yen ($7.4 billion) in official development assistance to five Mekong basin nations over the next three years to boost the region’s development, with an eye to countering China’s growing influence there.

Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda promised the aid from fiscal 2013 to his counterparts from Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand and Vietnam during their fourth Japan-Mekong summit.

Japan wants to bolster its profile in the resource-rich Mekong region as China, which borders the region and shares the Mekong River, continues to raise its presence there.

“Stability and development in the East Asian region cannot happen without stability and development in the Mekong region,” Noda said at joint press briefing after the summit at Tokyo’s State Guesthouse.

As part of its economic growth strategy, Japan is keen to export infrastructure such as power generation systems to the fast-growing region. Mekong nations, for their part, need better infrastructure and foreign investment.

Noda said Japan will continue to cooperate in the development of Mekong, calling it a “key area for assistance,” and said the approximately 600 billion yen in ODA will be disbursed through yen loans, grants and technical aid.

Japan, an export-driven economy, also unveiled 57 flagship infrastructure projects such as aid for hydropower plants where it is or will be involved. The projects’ expected worth is 2.3 trillion yen.

“Now is the time for Japanese companies to boost their presence in the region,” said Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen, whose country is the current chair of the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations.

Other leaders who took part are Lao Prime Minister Thongsing Thammavong, Myanmar President Thein Sein, Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra and Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung, whose countries, together with Cambodia, belong to ASEAN.

According to a statement issued jointly by Noda and the five Mekong leaders after their summit, they agreed on a strategy to establish new pillars of cooperation among their countries.

The document showed three new pillars — boosting transport connectivity within the region, assisting all five nations’ economies to narrow development disparities in the area, and making the region resilient to disasters such as the massive floods in Thailand in 2011 and ensure food security.

To achieve these pillars, Japan expects that its latest ODA will be accompanied by “the transmission of Japanese expertise,” said the document, replacing the “Tokyo Declaration” released in 2009 when the first Japan-Mekong summit took place in Tokyo.

Under the “Tokyo Strategy 2012 for Mekong-Japan Cooperation,” the Mekong leaders reaffirmed their “commitment to utilize ODA from Japan efficiently and effectively.”

The leaders also said they will urge ministers to update an existing action plan, bearing in mind that 2015 is the target year for the ASEAN to create an economic community, which Japan supports.

Summit sources said the new action plan will be drawn up by July, when foreign ministers of Japan and the Mekong states hold talks in Cambodia, taking into account Japanese companies’ assessment of the needs of recipient countries.

In the document, the leaders also agreed to promote the region’s tourism. The region boasts 16 World Heritage sites including Vietnam’s Halong Bay and Cambodia’s Angkor Wat.

Noda and Mekong leaders did not limit their talks to development projects as they touched on a number of global issues including North Korea’s rocket launch on April 13.

The leaders voiced support for the recent U.N. Security Council presidential statement that condemns North Korea for the launch as a violation of council resolutions and demands the country not proceed with any further launch or nuclear test.

They also reaffirmed the importance of upholding freedom and safety of navigation in the seas. This reference comes amid China’s increasing assertiveness at sea and disputes China has with some Southeast Asian nations such as Vietnam in the South China Sea.

During the 2009 summit, Japan pledged more than 500 billion yen in official aid to the nations over three years from fiscal 2010 and adopted a three-year action plan.

Japan and five Mekong leaders met in 2010 and 2011 on the sidelines of regional summits involving ASEAN countries and their dialogue partners in Vietnam and Indonesia, respectively.

April 22, 2012(Mainichi Japan)

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