Japan and the leaders of five Mekong countries held the 10th Mekong-Japan Summit in Tokyo this week and issued a joint statement at the end of the summit that pledged cooperation on the promotion of development programs and further improvement on “connectivity” and “quality infrastructure” projects in the region.
Aung San Suu Kyi, representing Myanmar at the summit made the following comments:
“This morning at the meeting we were able to review the Mekong-Japan cooperation process, particularly years between 2015 and 2018. We all agreed that this has been very beneficial for both Japan and Mekong countries. Myanmar itself has benefited from over 16 bilateral projects and 100 multilateral projects as part of the Mekong-Japan cooperation.”
The Mekong-Japan Summit has been held annually since 2009, and Japan hosts the event once every three years. As well as Aung San Suu Kyi, the leaders of the other Mekong countries also attended the summit including Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen; Laotian Prime Minister Thongloun Sisoulith; Thailand’s Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha; and Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc.
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, gave a press conference after the summit and said that: “Japanese companies’ investment in the Mekong region exceeded more than $17 billion USD (¥2 trillion JYN) during the last three years. More than 70 percent of the total (official development assistance) to ASEAN over the last three years was allocated to the Mekong region.”
Prime Minister Abe also said, “Following the track record of such support, in order to realize private investment more than before, Japan will utilize public funds including overseas loans, investments and ODA.”
Japan’s “Strategy 2018 for Mekong-Japan Cooperation”, is part of a plan by Japan to expand its economic foothold in the Mekong region to counter China’s influence and investment. Tokyo is making a case to the leaders of the Mekong that the funds it allocates for Japan-led projects are more expensive than those offered by China, but that Japan provides a infrastructure that is of higher quality than Chinese-companies can provide.
At the same time as it offers development assistance, Japan said in a join-statement with the Mekong leaders that A Japan’s policy of calling for “a free and open Indo-Pacific” region, which spans from Southeast Asia to the African continent would not change. The summit
also noted the importance of maintaining the rules-based order and freedom of navigation in the South China Sea.
Japan and the Mekong’s leaders also agreed in their joint-statement to have senior officials work out new goals to promote “sustainable, diverse and inclusive” development toward 2030. In order to enhance connectivity, the five nations call for an increase in hardware and infrastructure in the region, modernizing custom systems and improving supply-chain networks both in and outside the region.
The joint statement said: “The Mekong sub-region connects emerging mega-markets; China, India and other ASEAN countries. It is essential to advance the industrial structure and improve the value-chain network in the Mekong region and beyond.”
Led by studies from Japanese business organizations, many Japanese firms have shown increased interest and investment in the Mekong region since the five countries represent a consumer market of 240 million people and a low-cost manufacturing base that connects to other countries throughout the region. Unlike in China, where many Japanese companies have set-up manufacturing facilities, the Mekong countries are seen to be much friendlier and open to Japanese investment without the cultural and historical problems that inhabit the China and Japan relationship.