Cooperation among China, Japan and Mekong countries in the interest of region

By Bi Shihong Source:Global Times Published: 2018/10/21 20:23:40

The 10th Mekong-Japan Summit convened in Tokyo on October 9 adopted a series of important documents including "Tokyo Strategy 2018" and reached consensus on several issues. Japan, with ever-increasing support and participation in the region, has become the largest donor of Mekong countries. Bilateral and multilateral cooperation among them is also bringing in political and economic dividends.

First, social and economic development of Mekong countries has received a boost. Japanese assistance to industries like energy, resource development, transportation, telecommunications, agriculture and forestry, urban development and environmental preservation has made contributions to helping Mekong countries eliminate poverty, bridge regional development gaps, protect the environment, boost agricultural development and build a market economy, bringing remarkable economic and social benefits.

Second, a positive image of Japan has been created in the Mekong region. A steady flow of Japanese assistance is undoubtedly attractive to Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar and Vietnam. Japanese assistance, mainly in the form of technological cooperation and grants, has to a large extent lightened the countries' foreign debt burden, thus winning affection and trust of recipient governments and local people.

Third, Japan's soft power in the Mekong area has grown increasingly strong. Japan has enhanced its soft power through cultural diplomacy and people-to-people contacts and developed quality middle and senior management talent for Mekong countries, ensuring supply of talented manpower for the latter's economic development and social progress while improving relations with Japan.

Fourth, policies toward China have been influenced to some degree. Japan views China as a major competitor and tries different means to pull Mekong countries closer. Mekong nations, to some extent, "understand" Japan's stance and policies.

Though Tokyo participates in local cooperation with Mekong countries with an obvious intention of taking on China, it does not justify the opinion that Japan means to start a confrontation with Beijing or stand in the way of China's development.

Mekong countries wish to deepen cooperation with China and Japan for maintaining regional peace and boosting their respective economies. China should welcome and embrace Japan's participation in the development of Mekong countries and avoid competing for "money diplomacy" in the area.

China and Japan should keep the Japan-China Policy Dialogue on the Mekong Region going so as to achieve connectivity between economic corridors, convenient cross-border transportation and more investments in logistics and trade.

Dialogue and cooperation in agriculture, finance, infrastructure, environment preservation, talent-building and poverty alleviation should also be encouraged.

In engaging with Mekong countries, China should focus on efforts in different directions. First, China should properly understand and approach concerns of Mekong countries and make efforts to facilitate their rise as a whole.

Second, China should maintain close contact and exchange with all levels in Mekong countries, promote integration of the Belt and Road initiative and development strategies, encourage them to play their due role in international affairs, facilitate exchange and communication among political parties and social groups, as well as share with them experience of governance.

Third, China should share the spirit of win-win cooperation, deepen capacity cooperation with Mekong countries and keep implementing early-harvest projects. It should adopt a step-by-step approach based on the countries' development levels and local circumstances when selecting modes of cooperation. Differentiated industrial cooperation policies should be adopted to enable adjustment and upgrade of industrial structures on both sides.

Fourth, people's livelihood should receive further support and people-to-people and cultural exchange needs to be fostered. Peace, openness, inclusiveness and win-win cooperation should be taken as common values of China and Mekong countries. In-depth exchanges in tourism, science, education and local cooperation should be facilitated.

Fifth, research on and exchanges with Mekong countries should be deepened. Renowned think tanks in those countries may be selected to establish a Lancang-Mekong think-tank network to discuss major issues on cooperation and seek advice.

The author is a professor at the Center for China's Neighbor Diplomacy Studies and School of International Studies, Yunnan University. opinion@globaltimes.com.cn



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