• Kyodo

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Japan’s economic and technical support for building bridges and improving roads and other transport infrastructure around Indochina was praised at a meeting of the Mekong-Japan Cooperation Forum in Cambodia on Friday.

A succession of speakers pointed to projects built with Japanese aid which play vital roles in speeding the flow of goods and people among the five nations through which the Mekong River flows — Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand and Vietnam.

“The real link is Japan’s Tsubasa Bridge over the Mekong River at Neak Loeung. Container trucks waiting hours at the ferry crossing is a thing of the past,” said Cambodian government adviser Sok Siphana.

He was referring to a 2.2-kilometer cable-stayed bridge completed in early 2011 along the heavily traveled Highway 1 between Phnom Penh, Cambodia’s capital and largest city, and Vietnam’s commercial capital Ho Chi Minh City.

“For their part,” the adviser said, “the Mekong countries acknowledge that Japan has been a long-standing and indispensable development partner for the region.”

He went on to say, “One thing is clear. We can see the tangible benefits arising from the construction of new regional highways, bridges and other infrastructure facilities in terms of their economic regeneration effect and impact on the future growth of the whole Mekong area.”

With loans, grants and technical expertise, he added, “the Mekong region is now intertwined with a series of strategic north-south, east-west highways and economic corridors, which are stimulating more trade and investment.”

The 1,450-kilometer East-West Economic Corridor, once completed, will link the Myanmar port of Mawlamyaing with the Vietnamese port city of Danang by way of Thailand and Laos. Goods that used to take two weeks by sea between Bangkok and Hanoi will take only three days via the overland route.

Another corridor is the Southern Economic Corridor extending from Ho Chi Minh City to Bangkok making use of improvements to National Roads No. 1 and No. 5 in Cambodia.

At the forum, Kentaro Sonoura, a special adviser to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, pledged that support for regional development will remain robust.

“Hand in hand with the Mekong countries, Japan has been providing support to promote the economic development of this region, narrow the development gap, and foster investment and trade as Mekong’s partner,” Sonoura said.

The Mekong-Japan Cooperation Forum was launched in 2008 to narrow the gap among old and new members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations. ASEAN’s 10 member nations include the very wealthy island state of Singapore, middle-income and fast-growing countries like Malaysia and Indonesia, and poorer nations like Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar and Vietnam.

The 10th summit of leaders of the forum’s six member nations will be held later this year, at which the leaders will review recent achievements.