In the first application of its new aid policy, Japan will provide official development assistance to help finance a major road project linking Thailand, Laos and Vietnam to promote the development of the greater Mekong subregion, Foreign Ministry officials said Mar. 10.

National Road Route 9 is one of three candidate routes listed earlier by the Asian Development Bank for construction of the “East-West Corridor” on the Indochina Peninsula, the officials said, requesting that they not be named. The officials said the road project, estimated to cost about $150 million and scheduled to be completed by early 2002, will receive a formal go-ahead at a ministerial meeting of six Mekong-riparian countries to be held in Manila in mid-April under the sponsorship of the ADB. The six countries are Laos, Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand, China and Myanmar.

The Mekong River, the 12th longest in the world at 4,425 km, has attracted much international attention in recent years as the key to the development of war-battered Indochina. National Road Route 9 is one of more than 70 transportation, energy and other infrastructure projects the ADB and the six countries have already agreed to promote for the development of the greater Mekong subregion.

The road project will link Laem Chabang Port in eastern Thailand, Mukdahan in northeastern Thailand, Savannakhet in southern Laos and Dong Ha and Da Nang, both in central Vietnam, the officials said. It will also include a new international bridge across the Mekong River to connect Mukdahan and Savannakhet, and modernization work for Da Nang Port.

National Road Route 9 will become the first cross-border infrastructure project for which Japan, the world’s largest aid donor, has provided official development assistance, the officials said. In June, the government compiled an aid-policy report calling for increased Japanese economic assistance to countries in Indochina, especially Laos and Cambodia, to help promote “balanced” development across the entire region.

The report, prepared by aid officials from the foreign and other ministries, stresses the need for Japan to actively assist the development of the region’s infrastructure while also preserving the environment. It mentions that Japan should view the Mekong countries as “one whole economic entity,” rather than as “a group of countries,” to promote the “comprehensive” development of Indochina.

For comprehensive development of the region, the report emphasizes the need to establish basic infrastructure encompassing national frontiers, especially in the poorer Laos and Cambodia, and alleviate economic disparities in the region.

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