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Five Features of Lancang-Mekong River Cooperation

China’s Foreign Affairs Ministry

A new word-Lancang-Mekong River cooperation was added into the Chinese diplomatic dictionary last year. This morning, the Foreign Ministry website released the information that the first leaders’ meeting on Lancang-Mekong River cooperation will be held in Sanya, Hainan Province. Compared with many serious diplomatic words, “Lancang-Mekong” is down-to-earth from the beginning and brings to mind a popular food “blueberry”.. What is Lancang-Mekong River cooperation? What does it do? Who is it intended for? How does it benefit people’s lives? Now, let us get close to and understand Lancang-Mekong cooperation and thus taste this “blueberry”.

1.What is Lancang-Mekong River cooperation?

Lancang represents the Lancang River, Mekong means the Mekong River. Lancang-Mekong cooperation is short for the Lancang-Mekong River cooperation mechanism, which includes China, Myanmar, Laos, Thailand, Cambodia, Viet Nam as members.

Originated from the Tanggula Mountains in Qinghai Province, the Lancang River flows through the Tibet Autonomous Region, Yunnan Province and cuts across alpine and gorge regions. The section, that flows out of China from Xishuangbanna, is called the Mekong River. With a total length of 4,880 km, the River successively flows through Myanmar, Laos, Thailand, Cambodia and Viet Nam, before it enters the South China Sea. The River links the 6 countries and serves as their natural bondage and a cradle where their people live and breed. It bred their similar, close yet distinctive cultures and forged their time-honored, profound and extensive economic and humanistic connections.

With abundant resources, a drainage area of 795,000 square kilometers where lives 326 million people, a GDP of 590 billion USD and an annual economic growth rate of 7%, the Lancang-Mekong region is now one of the most promising regions in Asia and the world at large. However, due to the historical reasons, the Mekong sub-regional development started relatively late. Its economic level lags behind that of other surrounding countries and regions. The per capita GDP is only over 2800 USD and it has a long way to achieve industrialization, informationization and agricultural modernization. In order to narrow the development gap, the Mekong River countries set development as the top priority, actively participate in regional cooperation, improve domestic investment environment, attract foreign investment, vigorously develop infrastructure and have a strong will to promote development through cooperation.

As traditional good neighbors and partners, China and the five countries along the Mekong River have established a comprehensive strategic partnership of cooperation and had a high level of political trust. The border, River line, as well as sea, road and air traffic lines are like blood vessels that have closely connected key economic zones and development resources of the six countries, highlighting prominent cooperation advantages. In the meantime, climate change, natural disaster, cross-border infectious diseases, transnational crimes and other challenges require the six parties to work hand-in-hand. Under the new situation of regional integration, cooperation among countries along the Lancang-Mekong River has both strong internal demand and sufficient realistic conditions. It goes with the time trend and public will, therefore is imperative.

In November, 2014, Premier Li Keqiang proposed in the 17th China-ASEAN Leaders’ Meeting to establish the Lancang-Mekong River cooperation mechanism which got positive response from countries along the Mekong River, and planted a plump seed for the Lancang-Mekong River cooperation.

2.What has the Lancang-Mekong River cooperation done?

The construction of a multilateral cooperation mechanism is systematic and complicated, which requires consensus among all parties. Therefore some multilateral mechanisms have intricate structures and move in slow progress. However the Lancang-Mekong River cooperation has been showing effectiveness from the beginning. It only took over a year for the cooperation to take shape from initial proposal and planning, which is really impressive. Since the beginning of 2015, multiple consultations, including work group meeting, senior diplomatic officials’ meeting and foreign ministers’ meeting, have been held in many places, from Beijing to Chiang Mai, Thailand; from Jinghong in Yunnan Province to Sanya in Hainan Province. During the preparation of the mechanism, the six countries showed effective coordination, urgent cooperation willingness, inclusive negotiation attitude and harmonious interaction. All these features may one day contribute to the formation of the unique Lancang-Mekong cooperation culture.

Under the careful cultivation of the six countries, the Lancang-Mekong River cooperation broke through the ground and blossomed. In November 2015, the first foreign ministers’ meeting on Lancang-Mekong River cooperation was held in Jinghong, Yunnan Province, which is a River away from Laos and Myanmar. Foreign Minister Wang Yi and other five Foreign Ministers from countries along the Mekong River attended the meeting. The concept paper on the Lancang-Mekong River cooperation mechanism and a joint press communiqué were issued at the meeting, and the Lancang-Mekong River cooperation mechanism was officially established. All sides reached wide consensus regarding the future direction, framework and other issues of the mechanism, and agreed to enhance cooperation in three key areas of political security, economy and sustainable development, social and people-to-people and cultural exchanges. At the present stage, the mechanism should be promoted in five priority directions of connectivity, production capacity cooperation, cross-border economic cooperation, water resources cooperation as well as agriculture and poverty-reduction cooperation. All sides agreed to hold the first Lancang-Mekong River cooperation leaders’ meeting at an early date.

The Lancang-Mekong River cooperation has a long way to go with fruitful results to be yielded. It is a common aspiration for the six countries to have more transportation connectivity, more business development and more tourists exchanges and make more cooperation results benefit the general public.

3. What is the aim of the Lancang-Mekong River cooperation?

The Lancang-Mekong River cooperation is a new sub-regional cooperation mechanism tailored by the six countries according to their common needs. Although the six countries have different national conditions, they have common cooperation needs in industrialization, infrastructure construction, upgrading industrial structure, accelerating agricultural modernization, and developing tourism, and have strong complementary advantages. The Lancang-Mekong River cooperation has been well defined from the start. It aims to be “down-to-earth” rather than “high-flying”. In the planning and designing stage of the Lancang-Mekong River cooperation, it fully embodies the positioning in cooperation principles, targets, key fields and structures, making the Lancang-Mekong River cooperation wise and solid since its birth.

The Lancang-Mekong River cooperation is a platform discussed, constructed and shared by the six countries. All countries are equal and uphold principles of consensus, equality, mutual benefit and others. The countries jointly plan cooperation according to the actual situation and needs. The Lancang-Mekong River cooperation is a common responsible farmland for all countries. Who would pay no attention to his own responsible farmland?

The Lancang-Mekong River cooperation adheres to the pragmatic cooperation orientation, adopting government guidance, multi-participation and project-based models to fully mobilize all resources of governments, industries and people and jointly promote the implementation. In the first foreign ministers’ meeting, all parties put forward a number of cooperation projects on water resources, environmental protection, information communication, sanitation, poverty relief and others. The projects have been seriously discussed by related departments of all countries and are believed to be practical and people-oriented. Some projects are implemented or under implementation, some are stepping up its consultation and planning. As long as the conditions are ripe, the projects will be immediately launched, and strive for results and benefit the people at an early date.

4.What will Lancang-Mekong River cooperation do? 

“When people work with one mind, they can even remove Mount Taishan.” Great achievements call for mutual trust and joint efforts. The six countries are good neighbors, friends and partners. The Lancang-Mekong River cooperation is implemented based on political mutual trust which will be further enhanced by the cooperation. With the frequent high-level exchanges among the six countries, their cooperation is becoming more and more practical, and their relations are getting closer and closer.

The first ministers’ meeting of law enforcement security of the Lancang-Mekong River cooperation has been held, and joint patrols of Mekong River have been conducted 43 times. The six countries are making joint efforts to fight against transnational crimes and maintain orders at the border regions, with an aim to build a peaceful sub-regional environment.

“Want rich, build a road first”, Lancang-Mekong River cooperation focuses on the promotion of infrastructure connectivity. The open of Kunming-Bangkok Road, foundation laying of China-Laos Railway, and initiation of China-Thailand Railway all mark the rudiment of the middle route of Trans-Asian Railway that connects the six countries. The second-phase renovation of Lancang-Mekong channel has been launched, to further enhance its carrying capacity.

More and more air lines are being opened for the already well-developed air way of the six countries. More traffic means and convenience will be offered for business trip and traveling. “Lancang-Mekong River one-day living circle” will not be a dream. During the foreign ministers’ meeting of Lancang-Mekong River cooperation held last November, the Vice Premier and Foreign Minister of Viet Nam Pham Binh Minh “complained” to Foreign Minister Wang Yi that it took him 12 hours with 2 connecting flights to get to Jinghong from Hanoi, but the linear distance between the two cities is only about 1,000 kilometers. A month later, the direct flight from Hanoi to Kunming was opened, shortening the trip to about one hour.

Lancang-Mekong River cooperation will develop cross-border economy, strengthen production capacity cooperation, complement respective advantages, and build cross-border industrial clusters and chains through the construction of industrial parks. China is willing to take full advantage of the fields such as railway, power, electronics, energy resources and machinery, to help the countries along Mekong River realize the industrial upgrade. Long Jiang Industrial Park in Viet Nam, Saysettha Comprehensive Development Zone in Laos, Cambodia Sihanoukville Special Economic Zone and Thai-Chinese Rayong Industrial Zone are the demonstrative projects of cross-border economic cooperation for the six countries, and also successful examples of business investment and development.

A shared River is the origin of Lancang-Mekong River cooperation, therefore water resource cooperation will be proactively carried out. We will develop hydroelectric resources of Lancang-Mekong River in a scientific manner, establish Lancang-Mekong water resource cooperation center, share information and data of the River, and jointly protect the ecological resources along the River, to provide better life for the residents living by the River.

The six countries are all agricultural countries, and agriculture is of great significance to their economic development, famers’ employment and rural poverty alleviation. China has cooperated with Mekong countries on agricultural planting, variety breeding, agricultural skills training and agricultural product trade, yielding fruitful results. The high-quality and high-yield hybrid rice from China and the fresh tropical fruits from Mekong countries have gone into people’s lives, and become familiar to them. In the future, and the six countries will focus on the establishment of agricultural cooperation platforms, promotion of poverty alleviation and the building of pilot programs of poverty reduction, to bring well-off lives to their people.

The Lancang-Mekong River cooperation should go deep into the people, and promote non-governmental exchanges. The six countries all possess rich tourism resources, and the trips to Thai islands and Cambodia’s Angkor Wat have become one of the most popular tourism routes in China. More and more visitors from Mekong countries are also traveling to China. Tourism has become the most powerful drive for people-to-people exchange between the six countries. The Lancang-Mekong River cooperation will further promote the exchanges in culture, youth and sports, and carry out activities such as Lancang-Mekong art festivals and cultivation and exchange of young professionals. China will take “Bright Journey” plan to Mekong countries, to perform free rehabilitation surgery for cataract patients there. The Lancang-Mekong River cooperation will become an energetic and lively scene in East Asia.

5. What will the future of Lancang-Mekong River cooperation look like?

From March 22 to 23, 2016, the first leaders’ meeting of the Lancang-Mekong River cooperation will be held in Sanya, Hainan Province. Premier Li Keqiang will gather with the five leaders from countries along the Mekong River for the first time. Marking the official launch of the Lancang-Mekong River cooperation mechanism at the leader’s level, this meeting will draw up the future of the cooperation, and reach a series of major cooperation proposals and results so as to provide political guidance and strong impetus to the Lancang-Mekong River cooperation. The meeting will be of far-reaching influence and historic significance.

“Although we live in different parts of the River, our friendship will only be enhanced by the River.” This touching poem written by Marshal Chen Yi 50 years ago sincerely reflects the shared destiny and common aspiration of the six countries. With integrated interests and destiny, the six countries share a sincere attitude for cooperation. The goal of the Lancang-Mekong River cooperation is to make tangible efforts for development and improvement of people’s livelihood of each country. As long as all countries treat each other with sincerity and make concerted efforts, the cooperation will enjoy limitless potential and promising future. This vibrant “blueberry” will surely grow stronger, and bear fruitful and sweet results to the six countries and people in the region.