Home Subregional Cooperation Mekong Sub-regional Cooperation

“Lancang-Mekong Region" refers to the entire area Lancang-Mekong River and its tributaries run through. Lancang-Mekong River starts from China and is the only international river in Asia running through six countries. Lancang River begins in the northeastern side of Tanggula mountains in Qinhai province, flows through Tibet into Yunnan province, and is called Mekong River when it flows out of 244 boundary stone in Mengla county in Yunnan province. Mekong runs all the way through Myanmar, Lao People's Democratic Republic, Thailand, Cambodia, and Vietnam and empties into the South China Sea near Ho Chi Minh in Vietnam. Lancang-Mekong River is 4,880.3 kilometers long, with the total fall of 5,167 meters. Its average flow discharge is 475 billion cubic meters and the river basin accommodating 65.5 million population covers 811,000 square meters. The section of Lancang River in China is 2,161.1 km long.

“Lancang-Mekong Sub-region" is special area defined by Asian Development Bank (ADB). The developing member countries of ADB lie in Asian-Pacific area, which is called by ADB as “region". Lancang-Mekong Sub-region refers to the area covered by Cambodia, Lao People's Democratic Republic, Myanmar, Thailand, Vietnam and Yunnan province of the People's Republic of China. The Sub-region has a total area of 2.33 million sq. km, which about 70 peoples inhabit. The number of the population in Mekong Sub-region amounted to 246 million in 2000. Mekong Sub-region acts as a land bridge connecting China with the countries in the Southeast Asia and South Asia, so its position is very prominent. Mekong Sub-region boasts abundant resources, extensive market, long history, and rich folk culture.

 

1.Economic Cooperation Mechanism in the Greater Mekong Sub-region

 

As early as 1957, Thailand, Lao People's Democratic Republic, Vietnam and Cambodia altogether set up Mekong Committee, which was transformed into the Mekong River Commission in 1995 after some readjustments were carried out. In 1992, ADB initiated the GMS Economic Cooperation and Development Project, and advanced the strategic planning for the GMS economic development. It is hoped that with the help of loans and technical assistance, as well as regional cooperation, especially economic cooperation, the poverty of the countries in this region will be eradicated and people's living standards will be improved, and the economic and social development will be promoted.

Since 1992, the countries in the Mekong River Region have carried out the Ministers' Meeting Mechanism for Economic Cooperation, with the participants mainly being the representatives at ministerial level from China, Cambodia, Lao People's Democratic Republic, Myanmar, Thailand and Vietnam in the Mekong River Region. Until now 11 meetings have been held. The meetings identify 11 flagship programs including North-South, East-West and South Economic Corridors, transportation, energy, trade investment, human resources development, environmental protection, telecommunications, agriculture, and tourism in Mekong River.

On November 3, 2002, the leaders and high officials from China, Myanmar, Lao People's Democratic Republic, Thailand, Cambodia, and Vietnam convened in Phnom Penh, the capital of Cambodia in for their first GMS Economic Cooperation Summit, the theme of the meeting being “to achieve the vision of growth, equity, and prosperity for the Greater Mekong Sub-region through cooperation."

In all, the international cooperation in Lancang-Mekong Region attracts wide concern of the world at large, since ADB initiated GMS Economic Cooperation in the 90s. Japan, Europe, USA, ASEAN, and the other developed countries begin to get involved in the regional cooperation in succession, thus forming a good variety of cooperation mechanisms, namely: 1) The GMS Economic Cooperation Program advanced by ADB, witnessing 12 Ministerial Conferences, at which 7 key cooperation areas including transportation, energy, telecommunications, tourism, investment and trade, human resources development, and environmental protection have been identified and the relevant Topic Forums and Work Groups have been set up. 2) In 1996, China started a formal dialogue with “the Mekong River Commission" sponsored by the United Nations Development Program (UNDP). Until now, three dialogue meetings have been held concerning seven areas: hydrology, maritime shipping, hydropower, tourism, human resources development, environment, and water resources development and among others. 3) The ASEAN higher leaders initiated ASEAN-Mekong Cooperative Development Program, with ASEAN member countries, non-ASEAN coastal countries such as China, and Cambodia as its core cooperative partners. This Cooperation Mechanism identifies 8 priority cooperation areas such as infrastructure construction, trade and investment, agriculture, processing and mineral resources development, the development of medium-and small-sized enterprises, tourism, human resources development, and science & technology, and the Ministerial Conference has been held only once. It is expected the Second Ministerial Conference will be held this year. 4) “Quadrangle" Regional Economic Cooperation jointly initiated by four neighboring countries: China, Laos, Myanmar and Thailand. 5) Comprehensive Development of Indochina led mainly by Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan. In 1993, Japanese government put forward “Comprehensive Development of Indochina", and chaired the Indochina Development Conference in Tokyo. 6) The Economic Cooperation Work Group among Cambodia, Laos and Myanmar under the dominant leadership of ASEAN Economic Ministers' Conference and Ministry of International Trade and Industry. 7) UNDP and multilateral organizations. Up to the present, the former 4 mechanisms have been playing a dominant role. Among them, GMS spearheaded by ADB is of the top importance, its principal institution being GMS Ministerial Conference. In November 2002, the GMS Summit Conference was held in Phnom Penh, the capital of Cambodia, and from now on, it will rotate in the member country every three years. The GMS programs will not only facilitate the holistic economic development among ASEAN countries, but also promote the regional cooperation in the whole East Asia.

The data from Asia Development Bank indicates that there are 3 economic corridors in Great Mekong River Sub-regional Cooperation. They are the east-west corridor which links Myanmar, Laos and Thailand together; the south corridor which links Phnom Penh, Bangkok and Ho Chi Minh city together; and the south-north corridor which runs from Kunming to Thailand via Laos, i.e. Singapore-Kunming Railway. It is claimed that Asia Development Bank's purpose of promoting infrastructure construction has unfolded in an all-around way. With the air, water and land transport routes which run south and north of Indochina open to traffic one after another, a mutually open and connected international thoroughfare has taken shape. Regional cooperation has taken on an opportune trend. As a whole, the socio-economic development of Indochina countries is at a stage of taking off.

 

2.The Present Situation of China's Involvement in GMS Program

 

Although China is not a member of “the Mekong River Commission", it attaches great importance to the friendly cooperation with GMS member countries and the development of this region. Since 1992, China's government has got involved in ASEAN-Mekong Sub-regional Cooperative Development Mechanism, as well as GMS introduced by ADB, and set up a formal dialogue relationship with “the Mekong River Commission". China has been playing a very active role in these mechanisms. In 1994, China's government set up “the State Pre-stage Research and Coordination Group for Lancang-Mekong Sub-regional Development", which is responsible for the coordination of the domestic affairs. The Group supervisors include National Development and Reform Commission, and State Ministry of Science & Technology, and the deputy supervisors include Foreign Ministry, Foreign Economic and Trade Commission, Financial Ministry and Yunnan People's Government. Besides, there are over 20 departments under the State Council belonging to this Group.

On November 3rd 2002, China acceded into Framework Agreement for the Facilitation of Cross-border Movement of Goods and People and signed Inter-governmental Agreement on Power Inter-connection and Trade, and delivered the State Report for China's Involvement in GMS for the first time. China is also making proactive efforts to aid in the construction of Trans-Asia Railway and Kunming-Bangkok highway. And Japan is also taking an active stance towards the development of GMS.

With the aid of the relevant departments of the State Council, the Overall Research Report on China's Involvement in GMS Cooperative Development is finished under the leadership of National Development and Reform Commission. This report systematically analyzes the present situation of the development in all the cooperative areas and the problems existing, and also the roles China is playing in the cooperation, brings forward the schemes and specific measures China can adopt, as well as the strategic conception and key projects of China-GMS cooperation in all areas. This research fruit is of theoretical and practical significance to guide China's involvement in GMS Cooperation Program.

Besides, China's state leaders attach great importance to and proactively support the cooperation in the Lancang-Mekong Sub-region. In the recent years, Jiang Zemin, the President of the People's Republic of China, and Zhong Rongji, the Premier of the State Council both delivered the important speeches in this regard while they attended the Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM) and the Summit of Leaders from ASEAN and China, Japan and ROK. Both of them reiterated the active attitude and stance China was taking towards the GMS cooperation.

Some primary achievements have been made in China's cooperation with GMS in terms of transportation, water resources development and management, agricultural cooperation, environmental protection, trade and investment, tourism, human resources development and drug control. The overall objectives of China's involvement in the GMS Cooperation Program are as follows: to connect the southwestern part of China with the Indo-China Peninsula through land-way, and to link the market of the southwestern part of China with that of Southeastern Asia; to develop the economic cooperation of different levels, forms and contents, and to promote the partnership relationship with the other member countries; to attain the sustainable economic growth; to increase the employment opportunities, raise the incomes, alleviate the poverty, promote the social progress, and uplift the living standards of people; to expand and further develop the sub-regional cooperation through encouraging the dialogues and implementing the common projects, therefore forming the economic cooperation relationship of mutual benefit and reciprocity; to make great efforts to create an environment catering to the international trade and investment, to advance the timely formation of China-ASEAN Free Trade Zone, to establish stable, friendly and long-term cooperation relationship among China and ASEAN nations, thus guaranteeing and promoting the peace and prosperity in the Greater Mekong Sub-region.

 

3.The Infrastructure Construction in Lower Mekong River Region

 

Indochina, a peninsula in Southeast Asia, comprises Myanmar, Laos, Vietnam, Cambodia and Thailand. The five countries cover a whole area of 1.95 million square kilometers with a total population of 200 million. The level of economic development of Indochina's five countries is uneven and their socio-economic development falls behind. Among these countries, Myanmar, Laos and Cambodia are listed as the most underdeveloped countries by the United Nations. What's more, there is a wide discrepancy in their infrastructure construction, and this has become the bottleneck in the development of this region. In October 2000, at the ASEAN Summit Meeting held in Bali Island, government departments and industrial circles planned to further examine the trade liberalization of seven industries, most of which involve infrastructure construction. They also decided on the integration process of giving priority to eleven fields, including air transport.

Highway transport is basically the main means of transportation in Indochina countries, but the density of highway network is very low. Being low-grade, most of the highways between countries are broken off and there are no highways in remote areas. In addition, the density of railway network is also very low. The railways are disconnected from each other without forming a network. In China, broad-gauge and narrow-gauge railways coexist, but in other countries, most of the railways are narrow-gauge. The four main international rivers in this region can be developed for shipping. China, Laos, Myanmar and Thailand have made Lancang-Mekong River open to navigation. Besides China and Thailand, which have fairly advanced air transport, there are not many airports in other countries. Lacking means of transportation, the air transport in these countries is still at an early stage.

Since 1992, economic cooperation in this region has achieved noticeable progress in transport, energy, tourism and many other fields. Asia Development Bank has been proposing that countries concerned should strengthen the infrastructure construction in this region and it has invested more than US $ 2 billion. Infrastructure construction and energy development are the priorities of cooperation. In the 1990s, among the 100 construction projects put forward by Asia Development Bank, 74 of them belong to infrastructure construction, including 34 transport projects, 12 energy projects and 18 telecommunications projects.

I. The Construction of Transport Facilities
The East Asian Regional and Sub-regional economic cooperation mechanisms, for example ASEAN-Mekong River Basin Cooperative Development Mechanism, Great Mekong River Sub-regional Economic Cooperation Mechanism, Golden Quadrangle Economic Cooperation Mechanism and Mekong River Commission, have already reached a consensus on establishing an international thoroughfare which mainly concerns land and water transport. Among the priority projects in regional economic cooperation, there are 33 projects of thoroughfare construction, including 9 highway projects, 8 railway projects, 10 water transport projects and 6 air transport projects. At present, overland communication corridor and Pan-Asia Railway are under construction. In the next ten years, only infrastructure construction will need an investment of US $15~20 billion. The newly-established transport network will make the economies of the Great Mekong River countries more closely connected, giving play to the economy of scale. Indochina transport cooperation projects concentrate on the Lancang-Mekong River international navigation development, the feasibility research of Pan-Asia Railway and the construction of regional highway network. The most important projects include investing US $65 million in restoring Kunming-Hanoi railway, investing US $210 million in building a 150-kilometer railway which runs across Vietnam, Thailand and the former Friendship Bridge and other railway construction projects such as the Yunnan-Thailand railway (US$120 million), Thailand-Laos-Vietnam railway (US$550 million) and Yunnan-Myanmar railway (US$700~1200 million).

Yunnan is the intersection of China, Indochina and South Asia, so strengthening Yunnan's transport infrastructure construction and establishing a convenient and integrated transport network with Mekong River countries will play an important role in promoting the cooperation between China and Indochina countries and speeding up the opening-up and economic development of China's southwest. Among these thoroughfare projects, there are 11 projects from Yunnan to Southeast Asia, including 4 highway projects: Yunnan-Myanmar highway(from Kunming to Lashio), Yunnan-Vietnam highway(from Kunming to Hanoi), Yunnan-Thailand highway(from Kunming to Chiangrai) and the restoration of highways in the south of Yunnan, north of Myanmar, north of Laos and north of Vietnam; 3 railway projects: Yunnan-Vietnam Railway, Yunnan-Myanmar Railway and Yunnan-Thailand Railway; 2 water transport projects: the transformation of Lancang-Mekong River channel and Red River channel; 2 air transport projects: the renovation of Kunming and Jinghong international airports and the opening of new air routes.

In November 2001, Thailand, Vietnam and Laos decided to build a highway connecting the three countries, set up a new port in Wung Tau, Vietnam and make Ho Chi Minh city, Phnom Penh and Bangkok linked by highway. This project received Japan's commitment of providing loans. In the third ten-day period of February 2004, an international conference was held in Mukdahan, Thailand, with participants from Asia Development Bank, Japanese government, Japan International Cooperation Bank and relevant officials from Vietnam, Laos, Thailand and Myanmar. Japan will provide an aid of ¥8.1 billion to build a 1600-meter-long cross-border bridge between Savannakhet(Laos) and Mukdahan(Thailand). This bridge is part of “Asia Highway Plan" drawn up by Asia Development Bank(Japan is its largest fund-providing country). The eastern section of this highway will extend from Mukdahan(Thailand) to Savannakhet(Laos)and then to Vietnam's deep-water port Da Nang. Asia Development Bank has expressed its intention of helping raise the money for building a railway network connecting Thailand and Cambodia.

In 2001, with India's assistance, Myanmar built a high-grade highway between Tamu and Kalewa, the length of which is 169 kilometers. In April 2002, foreign ministers of India, Myanmar and Thailand arrived an agreement on building a 1448-kilometer highway from Moret(India) to Mae Sot(Thailand) via Bagan(Myanmar). It is planned that this project will be finished in two years. Moreover, the three countries will open up a sea route from Kanchanaburi, Thailand to Indian ports via Myanmar's deep-water port Tavoy. The construction of transport network between India, Myanmar and Thailand is progressing rapidly.

The highway from Kunming, China to Bangkok, Thailand is an important land thoroughfare between China and Indochina countries. It is 1887 kilometers long and 247 kilometers of it in Laos needs transforming. At present, it has been decided that China, Laos and Thailand will be in charge of building one-third of the highway respectively. The three countries will finance and construct on their own. The Chinese government provided US$ 30 million in the form of interest-free loan and grant for the Road Improvement Project inside Lao PDR.. In June 2000, the reconnaissance and design of the section of Kunming-Bangkok international thoroughfare in Laos were completed. At the beginning of 2004, the section of Kunming-Bangkok highway in Laos went into operation. It is expected that Kunming-Bangkok highway will be opened to traffic in 2006. As an important thoroughfare between China and ASEAN countries, this highway can be linked to the longest main line of communications in Indochina----Asia's No 13 Highway and reaches Phnom Penh in Cambodia and Ho Chi Minh city in Vietnam.

The Construction of Kunming-Lashio High-grade Highway: Kunming-Myanmar Highway is an international thoroughfare with long tradition. During the Anti-Japanese War, it was an important route for China's connection with the world. As a section of the main artery of traffic---China-India Highway, it is 747 kilometers long in China and the upgrading of this section had been finished.

In September 2003, at the 12th Ministerial Meeting on Great Mekong River Regional Cooperation held in Dali, Yunnan, Asia Development Bank's first representative to China made it clear that Asia Development Bank would invest US $400 million in the development of highways and railways in Yunnan province.

The idea of Pan-Asia Railway was first put forward by Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir in December 1995: to build a railway which cuts across Mekong River Basin, stretching from Singapore at the south end of Malay Peninsula to Kunming, China, via Malaysia, Thailand and other countries. After this railway is completed, China's mainland will be linked up to Asia-Europe Continental Bridge, thereby forming a mutually open and connected international thoroughfare. Pan-Asia Railway is planned to be completed in 10 years, and its total investment will reach over US $ 2 billion. This railway is also an important part of regional transport cooperation. In November 2001, ASEAN's Seventh Informal Summit Meeting formally approved the building of Singapore-Kunming Railway, which will connect Indochina with China. At present, the concept of Pan-Asia Railway consists of “one line" and “3 rings". “One line" refers to the section from Singapore to Kunming. The “3 rings" are the east ring, stretching from Bangkok, Phnom Penh, Ho Chi Minh city, Hanoi, Kunming, Vientiane to Bangkok; the west ring from Bangkok, Moulemein, Lashio, Kunming, Vientiane to Bangkok; and the great ring from Bangkok, Phnom Penh, East coastline, Kunming, West inland line to Bangkok. There are also three plans for the Bangkok-Kunming section of Pan-Asia Railway, they are the east route, the middle route and the west route. The east route stretches from Bangkok, Phnom Penh, Ho Chi Minh city, Hanoi to Kunming; the middle route from Bangkok, Vientiane, Jinghong to Kunming; the west route from Bangkok, Yangon, Lashio, Ruili to Kunming. Preliminary work for the Kunming-Singapore section of Pan-Asia Railway had been completed in the main. In 1998, the feasibility study report undertaken by a Malaysian consultation company was submitted to China, which plans to build it in its Tenth Five-year Period.

The Yunnan-Vietnam Railway from Kunming to Hanoi was open to traffic again in 1996 and Chinese government had decided to invest in restoring and building the railways within the Chinese territories. What's more, China had declared that it would provide money in the feasibility study of Cambodian section of Pan-Asia Railway.

The Dredge and Navigation of Langcang-Mekong River: In June 2001, Mekong River was formally open to navigation between China, Laos, Myanmar and Thailand. To safeguard navigation security, the four countries reached a consensus on improving the upper channel of Mekong River and China spent US $5 million in dredging the upper waterways. After the second-phase improvement project of Mekong River's waterways is finished, the glden waterways between China, Laos, Myanmar and Thailand have taken shape. Now it has become the most convenient water thoroughfare from the west of China to the hinterland of Southeast Asia.

Irrawaddy River is another important navigation channel in this region. With an aim of exploiting the water transport advantages of this river, China intended to cooperate with Myanmar in dredging some important sections of this river, upgrading the channel and building some important ports and docks. In addition, China would like to cooperate with Vietnam in dredging the fairways of Yuan-Red River, thereby maximizing its shipping function.

India is also vigorously developing a sea transport route from Kanchanaburi, Thailand via Myanmar's deep-water harbor Tavoy to India's ports.

Airport Construction
The renovation of Kunming airport was completed in 1992, with its annual handling capacity rising from 2 million person-times to 7 million person-times. Now it has become the fourth largest international airport after Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou. After Xishuangbanna airport is reconstructed and extended, it will become an international airport. In addition, Thailand is actively building Bangkok's second international airport and strengthening the construction of airport facilities in other major cities. China's relevant airlines have opened some international air routes from Kunming to Bangkok, Singapore, Vientiane and some other cities. Now they are making plans for the opening of Kunming-Mandalay(Myanmar) international air route, aiming at achieving nonstop flight from Beijing or Kunming to all Mekong River countries. When the time comes, Kunming and Bangkok will become the core of regional air transport.

II. Cooperation in Hydroelectric Resources Development and Management
Lancang-Mekong River Basin is rich in hydroelectric resources and the development of them is a key project in sub-regional cooperation. So far, 25 major projects have been listed in the hydroelectric resources development plan of Lancang-Mekong River mainstream: 14 projects inside China, 4 inside Laos, 4 along the borders of Laos and Thailand and Laos and Cambodia and 3 projects inside Cambodia.