Lancang-Mekong Cooperation vital for shared future in sub-region: experts
Originating from the Qinghai-Tibet plateau in southwest China, the Lancang River is known as the Mekong River as it flows through Myanmar, Laos, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam before emptying into the sea.
Initiated by China in 2015, the Lancang-Mekong cooperation mechanism groups the six countries along the river.
Since its launch, cooperation among the member states has mostly covered areas such as water resources, connectivity, poverty reduction and agriculture.
Prak Sokhonn with the Cambodian Ministry of International Cooperation says even though the official grouping is very young, it has already managed to generate results.
"Compared with other Mekong River cooperation initiative or frameworks, we have achieved quite a bit in a very short time. We have reached wide consensus on its framework, which comprises three key areas of cooperation: one, political and security issues; two, economic and sustainable development and three, social, cultural and people to people exchanges," Prak Sokhonn said.
Trade among the six countries has been on the rise.
Chinese mechanical and electrical products are popular among the other five countries in the grouping.
China is also a major importer of agricultural products from the other member states.
In 2016, total trade volumes among China and the other five reached 193 billion US dollars.
The 2017 numbers are expected to easily exceed 200 billion, with annual growth estimated at around 16 percent.
Bai Ming with the Chinese Academy of International Trade and Economic Cooperation says the grouping is a great opportunity for economic cooperation.
"The economic and trade cooperation has seen very good momentum in the past couple of years. China not only trades with these countries but has also established investment projects and other forms of collaboration as well. Consequently, China has gained more markets, while these countries have obtained development opportunities. Lancang-Mekong cooperation has sped up this process and further shifted industrial distribution to these less developing countries," Bai said.
Socio-cultural exchanges are also one of the pillars of Lancang-Mekong cooperation.
Mekong River countries are becoming some of the most popular destinations for Chinese tourists.
In 2016, nearly 13 million people from China traveled to the five nations.
China has become a main source of visitors for Vietnam and Myanmar.
Meanwhile, through the cooperation mechanism, China has dispatched 3,000 professionals to the five countries as part of assistance programs in areas such as management, health, education and finance.
U Hein Lat, Chief Editor of Myanmar's Sky Net Television, says he believes more should be done to publicize Lancang-Mekong cooperation.
"No matter what country, rallying people's support is a top priority. A successful program needs strong participation; the people are the ones who will ultimately work on the projects. Only by letting people know how the Lancang-Mekong cooperation framework will benefit regional development, can they truly support the initiative," U Hein Lat said.
This year's meetings in Phnom Penh will see the leaders of the six countries adopt several documents, including the Phnom Penh Declaration, which is meant to pay out the blueprint for the future development of sub-regional cooperation.