Strengthening the U.S.-Mekong Partnership

The Mekong Matters to America

The Mekong region – Cambodia, Lao PDR, Myanmar, Thailand, and Vietnam – is strategically important to the United States.  The region is a focus of the U.S. Indo-Pacific Strategy, and integral to our engagement with ASEAN.  The United States aims to uphold sovereignty, transparency, good governance, ASEAN centrality, and a rules-based order, in conjunction with our Mekong partners.  America’s ties with the Mekong region run deep:

  • Over the last 10 years, U.S. agencies have provided more than $3.5 billion in assistance to the countries of the Mekong.
  • U.S. direct investment position in the region reached $17 billion in 2017, up from $10 billion a decade ago. Two-way trade stood at $109 billion in 2018.
  • U.S. exports to the Mekong countries have created more than 1.4 million American jobs since 1999 in industries such as electronics, agricultural products, and machinery.
  • More than 33,000 students from the region enrolled in U.S. colleges and universities in 2018. More than 72,000 of the region’s youth are members of the U.S.-led Young Southeast Asian Leaders Initiative since its official launch in Manila in December 2013.
  • Thailand is America’s oldest ally in the Indo-Pacific, with a relationship stretching back two centuries. The U.S.-Vietnam relationship is of increasingly strategic import.

Lower Mekong Initiative:  A Decade of Building Human Capital

Since its launch in 2009, the Secretary of State has met annually with his five Mekong country counterparts through the Lower Mekong Initiative (LMI).  Over the past decade, LMI programs have helped Mekong countries better address transboundary challenges on water security, smart hydropower, energy and infrastructure planning, and STEM education.  LMI projects have delivered tangible improvements to the lives of the people of the Mekong region by:

  • Giving 340,000 people access to clean drinking water, 27,000 to improved sanitation;
  • Training 1,000 teachers (of 80,000 students) in STEM curriculum;
  • Partnering with Singapore to train 1,200 Mekong country officials on regulatory issues concerning connectivity and sustainable development, through the Third Country Training Program;
  • Raising technical English standards for 3,800 officials, teachers, and students;
  • Supporting hundreds of women business owners through three entrepreneurship centers;
  • Enhancing regional capacity to respond to and recover from emergency situations through the annual Pacific Resilience Disaster Response Exercise and Exchange, organized by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers,

Other LMI programs include:

  • The Mekong Water Data Initiative, which is developing an advanced, secure platform to strengthen the role of the Mekong River Commission in sharing data to improve flood and drought forecasting;
  • The Sustainable Infrastructure Partnership, which provides technical and scientific assistance for environmentally sound infrastructure, clean energy, and land and water use;
  • The LMI Quality Infrastructure Training Program, which works to improve public sector capacity to design projects to international standards;
  • The LMI Young Scientist Program, which researches innovative solutions to vector borne diseases.

New Challenges

The Mekong region is facing new challenges, including debt dependency; a spree of dam-building that concentrates control over downstream flows; plans to blast and dredge riverbeds; extraterritorial river patrols; and a push by some to mold new rules to govern the river in ways that undermine existing institutions.  The United States is committed to working with the Mekong countries to meet these new challenges.

The United States is also aligning our efforts with the “Friends of the Lower Mekong” to improve donor coordination with the Asian Development Bank, Australia, the European Union, Japan, New Zealand, the Republic of Korea, and the World Bank.  Together with the LMI countries, we are coordinating our programs based on shared values, principles, and vision for the region.

Expanding U.S. Engagement

The United States continues to promote infrastructure, energy, and the digital economy through programs launched under the U.S. Indo-Pacific Strategy.  Today, Secretary Pompeo announced that the United States, working with Congress, intends to provide approximately $45 million in additional resources to expand our engagement in the strategically important Mekong region, including:

  • Japan-U.S. Mekong Power Partnership: $29.5 million to promote and develop principles-based, sustainable Mekong regional energy infrastructure.
  • The dedication of $14 million in additional resources to counter transnational crime and trafficking in drugs, people, and wildlife.
  • A partnership with experts from the World Bank, Australia, France, and Japan to conduct dam safety reviews for 55 dams in Lao PDR.
  • Support for energy and infrastructure projects to advance liquefied natural gas import terminal sites and gas-to-power projects in Vietnam, and wind and solar power generation.
  • A partnership with the Republic of Korea to apply satellite technology to better assess trends in flooding and droughts.
  • Support for Ayeyawady-Chao Praya-Mekong Economic Cooperation Strategy (ACMECS) as a development partner, and ensuring LMI programs align with ACMECS goals.

We look forward to many more years of partnership and collaboration to ensure a peaceful, secure, and prosperous region.

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