US pledges $153 mln toward Mekong development

By Nguyen Tien   September 12, 2020 | 02:35 am PT
US pledges $153 mln toward Mekong development
A villager drives a boat where the future site of the Luang Prabang dam will be on the Mekong River, outskirt of Luang Prabang Province, Laos, February 5, 2020. Photo by Reuters/Panu Wongcha-um.
The U.S. Department of State on Friday pledged about $153.6 million for cooperation projects across the Mekong region, including crime fighting, data sharing, and disaster management.

The department would spend $55 million to combat cross-border crimes across the Mekong region and $1.8 million to support the Mekong River Commission (MRC) in sharing water resource data for policy planning, it said at the first Mekong-U.S. Partnership Ministerial Meeting, held online.

The rest of the money would be spent on disaster management projects and facilitating multilateral policy dialogues regarding development across the Mekong region, according to a press release by the Vietnam's Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Also at the meeting, the Mekong-U.S. Partnership (MUSP) was announced, based on Lower Mekong Initiative (LMI) initiated by the U.S. in 2009. MUSP would aim at promoting peace, stability and prosperity in the region, as well as helping to realize the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals and the 2025 ASEAN Community Vision.

The partnership would also "uphold ASEAN principles to be central, open, equal, consensual, mutually beneficial, transparent, respectful towards countries' sovereignty without interference and towards international law as well as regulations and laws of member countries," ministers said at the meeting.

MUSP is expected to focus on economic connectivity, sustainable management of water and natural resources and environmental protection, non-traditional security and human resources development.

Vietnam's Deputy Prime Minister Pham Binh Minh also stressed the partnership could contribute more to the sustainable development of the Mekong Subregion, helping countries close development gaps, seize new opportunities and overcome challenges as ASEAN moves towards a new phase in community building.

The 1st Mekong-US Partnership Ministerial Meeting was chaired by Deputy PM Minh and U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Stephen Biegun. Participants include ASEAN Secretary-General Lim Jock Hoi and foreign ministers of Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar and Thailand.

The Mekong flows 4,880 km from its origins in Tibet through Myanmar, Laos, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam before reaching the sea.

Recent studies by the MRC have shown drought in the lower Mekong basin has increased in frequency and severity in recent decades. Water levels in the river also hit a critical low during summer last year, the commission stated in July 2019.

Unseasonably low rainfall, weak water output from upstream areas caused by maintenance work at the Jinghong hydropower dam in China, and severe drought in several Southeast Asian countries last summer had led to massive declines in water levels and severely disrupted the lives of millions who depend on the river for their livelihood, it said.

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