China proposes 6 programs with Mekong-basin countries

China on Monday 4 July 2022 proposed six programs which will benefit the Lancang-Mekong countries aside from China, namely Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand and Vietnam, including cooperation plans in agriculture, water resources, digital economy, aerospace, education, and public health, as Chinese State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi chaired the Lancang-Mekong Cooperation Foreign Ministers’ Meeting (LMC) in Bagan, Myanmar.

The meeting came after the US’ high-profile launch of the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework (IPEF), seen by experts as an empty move that lacks sustainability and substance, which is in stark contrast to the pragmatic LMC cooperation mechanism that has borne fruitful results since its launch in 2016.

The eighth Cambodia-China Friendship Bridge across the Mekong River, connecting Kampong Cham province and Tboung Khmum province in southeastern Cambodia. (Shanghai Construction Group/Handout via Xinhua)

Wang said the space cooperation plan with the five countries will include jointly developing Earth observation satellites, and space breeding, and China will provide opportunities for the five members to carry payloads on recoverable satellites. 

Lancang-Mekong countries are also welcome to join the International Lunar Research Station  developed by China and Russia, to carry out cooperation in deep-space exploration and space debris monitoring. China will also help with space technology training for the five countries.

On public health, China will provide COVID-19 vaccines to Lancang-Mekong countries and deepen partnership in the R&D of COVID drugs.

Members under the LMC will seek to further unleash the benefit of the China-Laos Railway, Wang said, safeguarding regional production and supply chains and financial and energy security. 

Opening to traffic last December, the China-Laos Railway is a landmark high-quality joint project under the Belt and Road Initiative. As of June 30, the railway had carried 4 million passengers and around 5 million tons of freight, including 0.8 million tons of cross-border goods, according to Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian at Monday’s press briefing. 

“The China-Laos Railway has become an accelerator to boost regional connectivity, a new engine to boost economic cooperation, and a vivid example of the cooperation between China and ASEAN to promote the high-quality development of the BRI,” Zhao said.

Wang’s tour of Southeast Asia follows the launch of the US-proposed IPEF, which experts said lacks sustainability and does not count as a free trade agreement, but serves its geopolitical interests. 

The LMC, however, is in stark contrast with the IPEF, as the former has brought actual benefits to ASEAN countries. China has supported more than 500 livelihood projects under the LMC, and trade with the five Mekong countries amounted to nearly $400 billion in 2021, an increase of 23 percent year on year.

Under the mechanism, more than 20,000 students from five Mekong countries have studied in China on scholarships provided by the Chinese government, Xinhua reported. 

In response to some Western allegations that China’s construction of dams on the upper Lancang River is causing tensions in the downstream region, Zhu Zhenming, a professor at the Yunnan Academy of Social Sciences, told the Global Times on Monday that he sees this as another customary Western provocation of China and neighboring countries.

“If the dams built by China have a negative impact, other Lancang-Mekong countries will make it clear,” Zhu said. “These cooperating countries are the ones who know the facts, and they don’t buy that argument.”

He pointed out that some of the natural disasters in recent years were mainly due to abnormal climate changes. In the meantime, the Chinese region upstream of the Lancang River has also been affected, and there is no case of China using the dam to shift the damage.

Myanmar’s Foreign Minister U Wunna Maung Lwin said in his meeting with Wang on Sunday that his country cherishes the “Paukphaw” friendship with China, and will continue to support China’s legitimate stances on issues concerning Taiwan, Hong Kong, Tibet, Xinjiang and human rights, Xinhua reported.

Wang noted that the friendship has stood the test of intricate changes and has been unaffected by changes in respective countries. China supports the Myanmar people in exploring the development path that suits Myanmar’s own national conditions, and supports Myanmar in safeguarding its legitimate interests in the international arena, he added.

“Myanmar’s situation is still in a tug of war where the local military controls most parts of the country. Wang’s trip, although being the highest-ranking Chinese official visit to Myanmar since its major cabinet reshuffle, does not hint at China ‘recognizing’ the current administration as hyped by some Western media, as the purpose of Wang’s visit is to attend the LMC rather than engage in bilateral talks,” Xu Liping, director of the Center for Southeast Asian Studies at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences in Beijing, told the Global Times on Monday.

Source: Global Times, July 04, 2022. https://www.globaltimes.cn/page/202207/1269760.shtml

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