On September 11, the United States, Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand, Vietnam, and the ASEAN Secretariat launched the Mekong-U.S. Partnership. This new Partnership reflects the importance of the Mekong region to the United States and will expand on cooperation begun in 2009 under the Lower Mekong Initiative. “We will build on the good work of the Lower Mekong Initiative and the $3.5 billion in regional U.S. assistance during the last eleven years,” said Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in a statement.
At the inaugural meeting of the Mekong-U.S. Partnership, the United States announced more than $150 million in assistance for the Mekong region. Of that total, $52 million is supporting COVID-19 recovery, $55 million will counter transnational crime, $33 million will help develop sustainable and secure energy markets, and $2 million will help fight human trafficking.
The Mekong-U.S. Partnership is committed to the autonomy, economic independence, good governance, and sustainable growth of partner countries. “We have supported economic growth with more than $1 billion to develop infrastructure in ASEAN countries through the U.S. International Development Finance Corporation (DFC), and plan to invest billions more in the coming years,” said Secretary Pompeo.
He warned, however about the need to confront the challenges at hand, “including those from the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), which increasingly threatens the Mekong’s natural environments and economic autonomy.”
The CCP’s unilateral decisions to withhold water upstream have exacerbated a historic drought. The United States stands with the region and the Mekong River Commission in calling for transparent data sharing. “We encourage countries of the Mekong region to hold the CCP accountable to its pledge to share its water data. That data should be public. It should be released year-round,” declared Secretary Pompeo. “And it should be shared through the Mekong River Commission, the organization that serves the interests of Mekong-region countries, not those of Beijing.”
The United States is also concerned about infrastructure-linked debt and the predatory and opaque business practices of Beijing’s state-owned actors, such as China Communications Construction Company. Another concern is the boom in trafficking of persons, drugs, and wildlife, much of which emanates from organizations, companies, and special economic zones linked to the CCP.
Through the Mekong-U.S. Partnership, the United States looks forward to defending the interests of its partner countries and collaborating to ensure a peaceful, secure, and prosperous Mekong region.