Tokyo: Japan pledged ¥500 billion ($5.6 billion) in fresh aid to the Mekong region after concluding a summit Saturday aimed at catching up with neighboring China in strengthening its partnership with the Southeast Asian region.
Thailand, Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia and Myanmar joined Japan at the two-day meeting, which underlined Tokyo’s determination to woo the region, rich in natural resources and low-cost labor, where China has already been setting up a major presence.
Japanese Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama said the meeting was partly in response to “changing international situations,” including China’s growing influence as well as the greater interest the US has expressed in the region. It was the first of its kind hosted by Japan.
“It is fantastic that Japan can build a relationship of trust in this new way,” said Hatoyama.
Laotian Prime Minister Bouasone Bouphavanh praised the meeting. “We will carry out the action plans. We see mutual benefit,” he said.
Hatoyama said Japan’s interests were not in conflict with those of China and the US.
“It is not a disadvantage for Japan if China strengthens its relationship with the region. We also welcome the increasing US interest in the region,” he told reporters at the prime minister’s residence. “We have hopes for a win-win situation.”
The leaders issued a “Tokyo declaration” that committed Japan’s help for 63 projects in the region, including developing ports, airports and power lines, encouraging private sector investment and inviting 30,000 people, including youngsters, to visit Japan to promote exchange and understanding over the next three years.
Hatoyama, who is also holding talks with each of the five leaders, proposed Japan’s cooperation for a “green Mekong,” which will include water resource management and preserving the area’s greenery and wildlife.
The leaders also discussed the importance of erasing economic disparities through further development, Hatoyama said.
The new aid is in addition to Japan’s previous pledges of nearly ¥400 billion ($4.5 billion) in aid for the region since 2007. In addition to the aid, private investment from Japan in the five nations has soared in the last few years.
The Thai and Cambodian leaders were photographed sitting far apart from each other. The two countries are engaged in a diplomatic spat that led both to recall their ambassadors Thursday after Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen named deposed Thai leader Thaksin Shinawatra his economic adviser.