Remarks From the Fifth Lower Mekong Initiative Ministerial
Secretary of State
SECRETARY CLINTON: (In progress.) The United States is proud of the work we are doing together in the LMI. It is a key component of our ongoing cooperation with ASEAN and efforts to spur regional integration and close the development gap. It’s also a key component of our larger strategy in Asia, where we are working with partners to expand security, promote economic development, and strengthen people-to-people ties.
We created this forum three and a half years ago because we saw great potential in coming together to solve challenges in health, infrastructure, the environment, and education. And we saw an opportunity to create an action-oriented group that is inclusive but also flexible. So far, through the LMI, we’ve improved the way we measure the effects of climate change, started sharing best practices in the management of great rivers like the Mekong, expanded opportunities for workers in key areas to learn English, just to name a few areas of collaboration.
Today we are taking several steps that build on the work we’ve already done together.
First, because we recognize that our efforts must continue to evolve if we are going to advance the aspirations of our people, we are reorganizing some of our work.
Vietnam will co-chair a strengthened Pillar on Environment and Water which will include a broader focus on sanitation, flood management, urban water supplies, and related issues.
Our colleagues from Nay Pyi Taw will co-chair a new Agriculture and Food Security Pillar which will further our collective efforts to sustain food security for people throughout the Mekong region.
And in line with one of ASEAN’s top priorities, we are building a Connectivity Pillar co-chaired by Laos which will focus not only on how best to build roads and power lines, but also how to close the so-called digital divide and strengthen ties among our institutions and people.
Second, we have begun discussions about establishing a group of outside independent experts who could offer fresh thinking on subregional integration, sustainable development, economic competitiveness, and other areas of mutual interest.
And finally, I am delighted to announce a new, long-term commitment by the United States to support the Lower Mekong Initiative. As part of our Asia Pacific Security Engagement Initiative, we are launching LMI 2020. As the name implies, it is a multiyear vision for how the United States can help each of our partners together as well as individually to build a more prosperous region through each of the LMI pillars.
For example, as part of LMI 2020, we will support a new partnership between the Government of Vietnam and Harvard University to train the region’s next generation of public policy experts and leaders in key areas. Other efforts under LMI 2020 will ramp up the fight against malaria and climate change. Initially, we will seek to invest $50 million in LMI 2020 over the next three years. This is in addition to the bilateral support we already provide each of the countries here around the table.
Now, I want to be very clear. We think this initiative has great potential, but it can only be successful if we have the full participation of all the partners, because we need your ideas and we need your very constructive and candid dialogue with us. So we are developing an LMI coordinating network, and as the first step we will set up a coordination hub at the USAID Mission in Bangkok. And it’s time to move the center of LMI closer to the Mekong River so that we can enhance cooperation and connectivity.
LMI 2020 also touches on the serious questions of building dams along the main stem of the Mekong. And I want to thank the Foreign Minister from Lao PDR for the excellent meetings we had when I was just there with your government. In the past, I have urged partner countries to pause on any considerations to build new dams until everyone could fully assess their impact. Some studies have explored the benefits of generating electricity, but questions – serious questions – remain about the effects on fisheries, agriculture, livelihoods, environment, and health.
So through LMI 2020, we are prepared to commit up to $1 million, along with other donors, to support studies on these unanswered questions. We will also help the Mekong River Commission build up its technical capacity through an additional $2 million grant for its work on sustainable fisheries and rural livelihoods.
Later today, I will also raise the issue of dams with the Friends of the Lower Mekong, because other donors can and should support this work as well.
So I hope the actions that I’ve described today will be further evidence of American commitment to the people of this region. We’re proud to be your partners, enduring partners as you promote security and prosperity, and we look forward to many years of working together.
Now I would like to ask the Assistant Administrator from USAID Nisha Biswal to make a few remarks.