[The Mekong] is an extraordinary river,” U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said at the Lower Mekong Initiative Ministerial Meeting recently held in Burma. “[It] provides livelihood, movement of goods, commercial traffic, food, sustenance . . . It is central to the economic lifeblood of the entire region. It sustains the lives of more than 70 million people.”
In Secretary Kerry’s travels on the Mekong Delta, he noted the communities are as connected to the river as they have ever been.
“The waters of the Mekong Delta provide [many] benefits, some of which like hydropower could even conflict with the other benefits,” he said. “We all know that the short-term economic gains, no matter how promising they are, cannot come at the expense of the long-term economic stability and ecosystem of the river.”
Secretary Kerry believes all the Mekong River countries have the responsibility and ability to build on the robust economic growth of the region, and still increase access to energy and food. He said we can only do that if we make it a priority to become the thoughtful stewards of the Mekong River.
“The United States sees the Lower Mekong Initiative as one primary means to promote prosperity among all five of the partner countries: Burma, Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, and Vietnam,” Secretary Kerry said. “We also see it as a critical means of achieving ASEAN's own goal of . . . [an] integrated economic zone that . . . has been called the ASEAN Economic Community.”
The focus, in the next five years, is on the common challenges all Lower Mekong Initiative member countries face in dealing with water, energy, and food security issues.
“The recent success of . . . the Smart Infrastructure for the Mekong Program, which connects U.S. Government officials to partners who need technical and scientific assistance . . . [have led to] a dozen requests for assistance from Lower Mekong Initiative member countries in the first year of the program,” he said.
The newly created Lower Mekong Initiative Eminent and Expert Persons Group, will include government and nongovernment specialists from each of the Lower Mekong countries and the United States. They aim to find new ways to promote a sustainable future along the Mekong River.
“We're very optimistic,” Secretary Kerry said. “And I believe we have reason to be.”