By Supalak Ganjanakhundee
Bangkok, Thailand, May 4, 2016
Japan yesterday launched the Japan-Mekong Connectivity Initiative, pledging 750 billion yen (Bt245 billion) for the development of linkages in the region for the next three years while hoping Thailand would be able to restore political stability quickly enough to become a leading partner for the scheme.
Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida, who concluded his two-day visit to Thailand yesterday, announced the initiative during his policy speech at Chulalongkorn University to “set the tone” of Japanese presence in the region.
Connectivity is a key for regional integration, he said.
“Invigorating the flow of goods and people by connecting the region through roads, bridges and railways is indispensable for promoting economic development,” he said.
Japan expects Thailand could play a significant role in helping promote the development scheme.
“This initiative cannot be realised without cooperation from Thailand as a donor country. I hope that Thailand will work hand-in-hand with Japan to promote this framework,” Kishida said in his address to more than 100 attendees, mostly diplomats, academics, government officials and journalists.
Japan will also work with countries in the Mekong basin, which include Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, and Vietnam, to create a detailed framework to support the efforts of those countries, he said.
Kishida discussed the scheme with Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha, Deputy Prime Minister Somkid Jatusripitak and Foreign Minister Don Pramudwinai, according to a Japanese official.
Japan’s new initiative for connectivity was put in the context of Japan-Mekong cooperation to highlight Japanese interest in the region, the official said, but dismissed an observation that it was created to compete with China’s recently launched Lanchang-Mekong Cooperation, whose first summit was held in Hainan in March.
Japan has had a great deal of cooperation with the Mekong Region for more than 20 years, the official said.
The political setback due to the 2014 military coup will obstruct Thailand from playing any leading role in regional development.
Kishida discussed political issues with Prayut, who is dealing with various domestic challenges including return to civilian rule.
“I strongly hope that the people of Thailand will overcome the current difficult challenge and play a more active role in the region and the international community,” Kishida said.
Prayut told him that his government was committed to the election road map and moving forward reform for “sustainable democracy” and good governance, a Thai official said.
A Japanese official who accompanied Kishida in the meeting said Prayut reassured the Japanese minister that more than 65,000 Japanese people and 4,500 Japanese companies in Thailand were in the good hands of the government.
Prayut and Kishida also discussed development in the Mekong region and the Thai prime minister mentioned the Dawei project in Myanmar. Thailand wants the Japanese to assume crucial roles in that development.
Kishida, who is in Myanmar today, told Prayut that Tokyo reassured Bangkok of the importance of the project, as it would be a key component of regional connectivity, according to a Japanese official.
During his speech at Chulalongkorn, Kishida made clear Japan’s stance on maritime security, notably on the ongoing tension in the South China Sea.
Japan has proclaimed three principles to address the issue, he said.
States shall make and clarify their claims based on international law, shall not use force to drive their claim and should seek peaceful means to solve the disputes, he said.
The meeting of Group of Seven foreign ministers in Hiroshima this month will strongly oppose any attempts to change the status quo in the South China Sea, he said.
“We must establish a regional order whereby the principle of the rule of law is truly upheld and practised.
“I would like to renew my call for the early conclusion of an effective Code of Conduct in the South China Sea,” he said.