Japan will provide ¥600 billion in official development assistance within three years to the Mekong region countries of Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand and Vietnam to bolster their development, Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda declared Saturday.
Noda made the ODA announcement at the fourth annual Mekong-Japan Summit in Tokyo, where he met with Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen, Prime Minister Thongsing Thammavong from Laos, Myanmar President Thein Sein, Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra and Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung.
“There is no stability in the East Asia region without stability and development in the Mekong region,” Noda said at a joint news conference after the summit. “Our country will continue to focus on the importance of supporting the Mekong region and would like to strongly promote cooperation” with the area.
Noda stressed the importance of developing the Mekong region and listed 57 infrastructure projects Japan has an interest in that are worth an estimated ¥2.3 trillion. The projects include the use of an earth observation satellite to take countermeasures against natural disasters and assist in the construction of roads, bridges and railways in the five countries.
The six leaders adopted the Tokyo Strategy 2012 for Mekong-Japan Cooperation, which establishes new pillars of cooperation for the next three years to enhance regionwide connectivity, facilitate economic development and ensure human security — including resilience against natural disasters.
In the Tokyo Strategy, Japan vowed to provide ¥600 billion in ODA, stressing that aid is crucial to establishing basic infrastructure to promote economic activity in the Mekong region.
At the joint news conference, the five Mekong leaders expressed their appreciation for Japan’s support.
“Japan’s role in the Mekong region is expanding and the support is helping us grow into a harmonious and competitive area,” Cambodia’s Hun Sen said.
Cooperation with Japan “is the foundation to developing an open, peaceful, and prosperous Mekong region, which will lead to the promotion of integration,” he said.
The Mekong region is known to be rich in natural resources, and many Japanese firms are eyeing potentially lucrative investment opportunities.
With Myanmar’s recent democratization push, development in the region is expected to advance rapidly. Experts, however, point out that economic disparities remain a serious problem, especially in the area around the borders of Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam. This imbalance is causing concern, especially as the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, which includes the five Mekong countries, is pressing for the creation of a single market by 2015.
On Saturday, the leaders agreed that they need to boost development in the entire region.
“To realize the full potential of the Mekong region and to transform it into a resilient economic zone, which can drive economic growth throughout Asia, we will seek strong, sustainable and balanced regional growth through Mekong-Japan cooperation,” they said in the Tokyo Strategy accord.
They also expressed concern about North Korea’s failed rocket launch April 13 and urged the hermit state to take action to show it is serious about denuclearizing the Korean Peninsula.
After the summit, Noda held separate bilateral meetings with the leaders of Cambodia, Vietnam and Myanmar. The prime minister did not hold talks with Shinawatra and Thongsing because they both visited Japan and met with Noda in March, government sources said.
In his talks with Hun Sen, Noda agreed to provide up to ¥1.51 billion in grant aid to help Cambodia recover from the 2011 floods and to help prevent future disasters. Although Japan is still trying to recover from the March 11 natural and nuclear calamities, Cambodia’s floods last fall affected an estimated 1.2 million people.
Noda and Dung, meanwhile, confirmed that bilateral cooperation to construct a nuclear power plant in Vietnam with two Japanese reactors is moving forward, and that efforts toward the joint development of rare earth materials are also making progress.
The two leaders also reaffirmed continued economic cooperation between their two countries, including over the acceptance of Vietnamese nurses and caregivers, a system Japan initiated in 2008 with Indonesia and the Philippines.
Japan has also agreed to accept Vietnamese health professionals under a bilateral pact, and the first group is expected to arrive in 2014.