Remarks Before Mekong Initiative Ministerial

John Kerry
Secretary of State
National Convention Center
Vientiane, Laos
July 25, 2016

FOREIGN MINISTER WANG: Honorable John Kerry, Secretary of State of the United – Department of State of the United States of America, dear ASEAN colleagues, Secretary General of ASEAN, distinguished delegates, and ladies and gentlemen, I would like to express my warmest welcome on behalf of the Government of the Lao PDR to all honorable foreign ministers of Mekong countries and Secretary of State John Kerry to the Lao PDR, and also express my thanks to all colleagues for taking time to participate in this meeting today – the Ninth Lower Mekong Initiative Ministerial Meeting.

I’m very privileged to co-chair the Lower Mekong Initiative Ministerial Meeting with Secretary of State John Kerry for the first time, and I would like to take this opportunity to thank the Government of the United States for providing support and assistance in order to make this meeting possible.

The United States is one of the important development partners for Mekong region, and cooperation between Lower Mekong countries and the United States has progressively developed over the past years. The Lao PDR is satisfied with the progress made in the implementation of Lower Mekong Plan – Initiative Plan of Action 2011-2015, supported by the United States of America in the past year.

The Lao PDR has actively participated in the (inaudible) in the implementation of various programs and activities under the LMI six pillars. Here are some of the highlights of the joint implementation by the Lao PDR and the United States: We implemented three projects under the Smart Infrastructures for Mekong program, a professional communications skill for Lao program at the Institute of Foreign Affairs in Vientiane for the past four years. In September last year, the Lao PDR and the United States successfully co-hosted the Disaster Response Exercise and Exchanges with more than 100 participant attended in the seminar in Vientiane.

For the – the meeting today provides a good opportunity for us to exchange our views on sustainable infrastructure partnership and exploring potential areas for future cooperation, especially through the implementation of LMI Master Plan of Action 2016-2020, with an aim to further enhancing social and economic development in the Mekong sub-region for the wellbeing of the people. The Lao PDR stand readies to work closely with all LMI members to ensure the partnership will bring about concrete results.

I would like to express my strong belief that with all colleagues – with all colleagues’ wisdom, vast experience and commitment, the deliberation today will be crowned with a great success.

Now I would like to invite Honorable Secretary of State John Kerry to deliver his opening remarks.

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, thank you very much, Mr. Foreign Minister. Thank you for your opening remarks; thank you for hosting us also again. And thanks as well to Secretary General Le Luong Minh. Thank you very much. We are appreciative for your strong support here.

If I could just take a moment – at the last meeting, the foreign minister – prime minister of Myanmar was – had to go out to another meeting, so she wasn’t there at the time, but I took advantage of it to welcome her and since this is her first meeting also of the Lower Mekong Initiative in this format, I just want to express my pleasure at being able to attend – my last meeting, her first, but I’m so happy there’s an overlap because I have known her for a long time and watched her extraordinary leadership, and I think it underscores exactly the kind of progress that can be made when all of us come together, as we have in ASEAN and otherwise here, in order to work on common efforts. So I’m delighted to be here with you in many, many different ways.

I have emphasized in the past that this particular initiative has been important to me personally because, as I’ve told you and I’ve shared this with you, I spent a fair amount of time on the Mekong years ago when I was in the United States Navy, and I never imagined then that 50 years later, I would be working in an official capacity with all of you to conserve the river and its ecosystem. So this is a personal kind of effort, and while this is my last round as – this is my fourth meeting now that I’ve chaired, co-chaired as Secretary, I will continue to try to be involved one way or the other, I want to assure all of you, in the years ahead because this is so important.

The Mekong River is the economic lifeblood of the entire region, and it helps to enrich lives, it pays the bills, fills the stomachs of some 70 million people. It’s also a priceless center of biodiversity. It’s home to the most productive inland fishery on the face of the planet. And we have learned that, wherever we have a fragile ecosystem supporting a regional economy, you need a strategy that nurtures the health of both, and you require all of the regional components of that ecosystem to share in responsibility. That means you have to have a comprehensive approach that’s based on wise management, thoughtful stewardship of resources, and that is exactly what the Lower Mekong Initiative was designed to do.

Now, wise stewardship begins with people. Since 2012, through the U.S.-Singapore Third Country Training Program, we’ve trained more than 800 ASEAN officials, many in skills that are especially tailored to the needs of Lower Mekong countries with any number of different things, like water management or countering disease outbreaks or management of fisheries. And this training is essential.

Last September, we launched a Women’s Business Center in Cambodia. This project has already helped to create more than 60 businesses, 250 new jobs, and we’re going to be starting a parallel center in Vietnam this year. The reason is very straightforward: No country in the world can get ahead if it leaves half its population behind. And in most countries, women are half the population or more. And no economy can thrive unless women are empowered and equipped to contribute to a strong and stable and prosperous society.

At the heart of the Lower Mekong Initiative is one concept: sustainability. That is why one of the LMI’s most significant efforts is the Smart Infrastructure for the Mekong program, which provides technical assistance to support projects that serve environment and economic purposes simultaneously.

This year, for example, experts from several U.S. agencies have worked with officials from your governments on projects that range from ensuring dam safety, to building bridges and roads in an environmentally sound manner, to protecting the critical fish stocks.

So we’re making progress. I don’t think anybody doubts that. This is a region that – through ASEAN and other means – has now made enormous steps forward in cooperative planning and action. There’s room for more. The recent drought across Southeast Asia, for example, is the worst in almost a century and it threatens the livelihood of people throughout the region. And if the scientists – well, let me put it – let me rephrase that. Every prediction made by the scientists about what was going to happen with global climate change has not only been happening, it has been happening faster than even they predicted. So we need to take these warnings and process them into what we’re doing. And since we began this project, we have explored ways to cooperate, to share information, and address the full range of water, energy, and food security challenges that we face.

Today, I propose that we formally launch the “Sustainable Infrastructure Partnership,” a multinational training program that we have developed together to address this need – and it’s both immediate need and a long-term need. And I hope we will have everybody’s support in taking this important step.

So I will have a chance to talk to each of you face to face about the Lower Mekong Basin and its challenges, but I want to make clear that the commitment of the United States to work with you on behalf of this region will continue, I assure you, long after I leave office. And with its diverse mix of forests, wetlands, savannas, waterways; its incredible flora and wildlife; its burgeoning human population – this part of the world provides an – (ends in progress).