Mekong River [Image: Wikimedia user: Klim Levene]

The United States and Mekong Countries Announce new Partnership

The Mekong ASEAN

On September 11th 2020, the United States, Cambodia, Lao PDR, Myanmar (Burma), Thailand, and Vietnam launched the Mekong-US Partnership, a strategic forum to address issues such as economic independence, women’s empowerment, and sustainable growth of Mekong partner countries.

The new partnership builds upon the success of the Lower Mekong Initiative (LMI), a program addressing transboundary environmental issues and development of human capital in the region for the past 11 years. The Mekong-US Partnership serves as an expansion of LMI; its three main goals are to improve transparency and governance connectivity, strengthening connections between public and private sectors of the United States and Mekong countries, and collaborating with other international partners for regional development. Much like its predecessor, the new partnership is guided by ASEAN principles of respect for sovereignty, economic growth, and equality. The new partnership seeks to complement regional organizations such as Ayeyarwady-Chao Phraya-Mekong Economic Cooperation Strategy (ACMECS), ASEAN, the Mekong River Commission, and other Mekong development partners for collaboration.

As of the first Mekong-US ministerial meeting on September 11th, Deputy Secretary of State Stephen Biegun announced that at least $153 million will be available to fulfil collaborative projects in the region. The planned resources are available for COVID-19 recovery support in the region, prevention of transnational crimes as well as developing energy markets under Asia EDGE.

The partnership aims to address new challenges such as public health preparedness in the wake of COVID-19 and emphasizes capacity building and sustainability to strengthen regional energy governance. Given the deterioration of ecological balance surrounding the Mekong River, sustainable energy development is paramount not only to environmental conservation but also to many Mekong country citizens who depend on the river for their livelihood. Through the Japan-U.S-Mekong-Power Partnership (JUMPP), the United States and Japan seek to mitigate and reduce negative environmental impacts in the Mekong Basin and promote reliable and affordable energy access.

The US-Mekong Partnership remains committed to human capital development in the region through programs such as Young Scientist Program and the Gender Based Violence Prevention and Response Initiative. The programs invest in the next generation of Mekong youth as well as promote inclusive dialogue at the community level, crucial to sustainable growth and economic development in the region.

More information on the US-Mekong Partnership can be found here.

Htet Thadar Aung is a Research Intern in the Young Professionals Program at East-West Center in Washington. She is a recent graduate of Smith College with majors in Government and Religion.