The Mekong River links some 70 million people in Southeast Asia who rely on the river for their livelihood, transportation, and energy needs. But because problems at any point affect millions of people downstream, nearly three decades ago Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, and Vietnam formed the Mekong River Commission, or MRC, an intergovernmental organization for regional dialogue and cooperation on water resources management and sustainable development. The United States formally supports the MRC as a Development Partner.
In July 2009, the United States, Cambodia, Laos, Burma, Thailand, and Vietnam formed the Lower Mekong Initiative to advance sustainable economic growth in the region. In 2020, the Lower Mekong Initiative expanded and became the Mekong-U.S. Partnership, growing integrated sub-regional cooperation among the five regional partner countries, with support from the United States.
Thus, the United States established itself as a committed partner in addressing trans-boundary challenges faced by the Mekong region. “With our Mekong partners, we are strengthening good governance, economic independence, and sustainable development by promoting transparent, rules-based policies,” said Secretary of State Antony Blinken in a written statement.
Indeed, the Partnership is part of broader U.S. support for the region’s ASEAN-centered architecture. Over the years, it has improved the lives of hundreds of thousands of people in the Mekong region. Nonetheless, with the passage of time come new challenges made more complex by their transnational reach, such the climate crisis and the COVID-19 pandemic.
“To combat the prevailing threat of the last two years – COVID-19 – the United States delivered 8.5 million vaccines and close to $60 million in assistance to date to countries in the Mekong subregion, and we will continue to work closely with local health authorities in pandemic preparedness and mitigation. We provide these vaccine doses free of charge with no political or economic strings attached,” said Secretary Blinken on August 3 at the Mekong-U.S. Partnership ministerial meeting.
“This coming year, we can look forward together to expanded engagement on issues that affect not just the Mekong region, but the globe, including supporting women’s empowerment, strengthening health systems to prepare for the next pandemic, and raising our climate ambition,” he said.
“The Mekong-U.S. Partnership is putting into action President Biden’s view that we can only meet today’s accelerating global challenges by working together. As we combat the pandemic and recharge our economies, Mekong-region countries can count on the United States and the Friends of the Mekong.”