The leaders of the five countries that form the heart of mainland Southeast Asia will meet in the Thai capital of Bangkok on June 15 and 16 to commit to a common plan for shared and sustainable development that will lead to a better future for each country.
The five nations form ACMECS: the Ayeyawady-Chao Phraya-Mekong Economic Cooperation Strategy. Its members are Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand and Vietnam. ACMECS was founded by Thailand in 2003 and named after the three mighty rivers that course through the region. The group was conceived of as a sub-regional platform to narrow the wide gaps in wealth and development among these neighboring countries.
While there are several sub-regional groups in Asia, the 8th ACMECS Summit is planned so that it will be different than those that came before. Together, the five countries have forged and will adopt a master plan to guide their collective development from 2019 through 2023. Broad and ambitious in scope, the ACMCES master plan is designed to support shared development that is “Seamless, Synchronized and Smart”. Working towards that goal, the theme of the summit will be, “Towards an integrated and connected Mekong community.”
Thailand is the current chair of the ACMECS group and is taking a lead in the moving the 5-year goals forward. Don Pramudwinai, Minister of Foreign Affairs for Thailand said: “Thailand will be proposing the establishment of an ACMECS Trust Fund at the summit in order to facilitate the Master Plan and finance advanced infrastructure that will boost connectivity among members and between the sub-region and the world in a sustainable way.’’
Few groupings are as diverse and dynamic as ACMECS. The economies of the five countries are expected to grow between 4% and 8% per year during the next five years, well above the global growth rate forecast of 2% to 3%. The region is abundant in natural resources and human resources. ACMECS’s 243 million people represent a sizable market brimming with young people eager to embrace new ideas and innovation.
Breakthroughs in terms of connectivity within the sub-region include proposals for the development of shared power and digital grids; common customs rules and procedures; and adaptability to new technologies in order to make the land bridge between China and India not just a byway but a worthy destination in its own right for investors and developers.
What began as a grouping focused on economic development has expanded to include cultural, environmental and social concerns and cooperation. At the June summit, public health and social welfare will be as important to the ACMECS agenda as building infrastructure and facilitating investment in the five countries.
The leaders in attendance will also include business leaders. Private sector involvement is an important component of regional development. As are business partnerships, which is why representatives of other regional groupings, international organizations and major donors will also be participating in this all-important summit.
There is a shared belief among the leaders of the participating countries that the fastest way to grow their individual economies is to create a bigger combined market and that their human and natural resources create an opportunity for shared prosperity.