The Embassy of the Republic of Korea and Mekong Institute jointly held a regional forum on the theme of “Mekong-RoK Cooperation: Seeking Synergies on Mekong-ACMECS Cooperation” in Bangkok on June 17, 2022. The forum was attended by over 90 attendees, both virtual and in-person. Government officials, diplomats, development organizations, think tanks, universities, non-government organizations, the media, and business chambers and associations were among the participants.
The forum started off with the remarks of Mr. Jeon Joyoung, the Minister and Deputy Chief of Mission, Embassy of the Republic of Korea to Thailand, where he emphasized that “this forum is meaningful as we should altogether seek synergies and cooperation for further development of Mekong/ACMECS”. The forum aimed to assess the current status and directions of Mekong regional cooperation frameworks, find potential synergies across regional cooperation frameworks, and deepen the partnership and cooperation between international development partners, Mekong countries, and the Republic of Korea.
In recent years, the Mekong region—composed of five countries along the Mekong river basin: Cambodia, Lao PDR, Myanmar, Thailand, and Vietnam—has emerged as a critical engine of regional and global economic integration and prosperity. As explained by H.E. Ms. Arunrung Phothong Humphreys, the Ambassador for Mekong Cooperation at Thailand’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, during her special remarks that this is due to the region’s strong growth prospects and demographics which have attracted the attention of global investors and international development agencies.
As a result, there are about 14 sub-regional cooperation frameworks established to address the development gaps in the region as part of the effort to realize its full potential and achieve maximum growth.
Under the theme of “The Political Economy of the Mekong Region“, representatives from selected think tank/research institutions and universities shared their learning and perspectives on different topics as follows:
- International Cooperation and Engagement of External Partners in the Mekong Region by Mr. Cho Won Deuk of Korea National Diplomatic Academy
- A Search for Regional Architecture in the Mekong: Geostrategic Competition and Future Challenges by Dr. Jittipat Poonkham of Thammasat University
- US-China Rivalry and Mekong cooperation by Mr. Kavi Chongkittavorn of Chulalongkorn University
- An Overview of the Mekong Cooperation Frameworks by Mr. Madhurjya Kumar Dutta of Mekong Institute
The forum also featured two sessions of panel discussions. The first panel discussion focused on the topic ‘Building Synergies for Robust Mekong Cooperation’ with the perspectives exchanged by six diplomatic corps representatives from the non-Mekong signatories of cooperation frameworks, including the Republic of Korea, the United States of America, Japan, P.R China, Australia, and India. The session highlighted the multiplicity and overlap of frameworks, especially in terms of their scope, geographical, sectoral, and strategic focus, which could also carry the risks of operational inefficiency and ineffectiveness in the long run.
The second panel discussion focused on the topic “Sustainable Development of the Mekong region,” featuring development expert representatives from Mekong Institute, Thailand International Cooperation Agency (TICA), Korea International Cooperation Agency (KOICA), Stimson Center, Tsinghua University, Bolliger & Company, and an independent Mekong development specialist. The discussion highlighted experts’ observations and research findings on the development interventions of the regional cooperation as well as areas to consider to achieve UN’s sustainable development goals.
At the end of the forum, Mr. Suriyan Vichilekarn, the Executive Director of Mekong Institute, provided his closing remarks. He concluded that “there is a need to systematically explore potential synergies across frameworks, with common goals and agendas, to complement each other.” Moving forward, maintaining and advancing such cooperation mechanisms require political will and strategic direction for a win-win strategy for all the parties involved.