Abe unveils $8.2 billion in aid to 5 Mekong region nations

Abe unveils $8.2 billion in aid to 5 Mekong region nations
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, third from left, speaks at a press conference with the other attendees of the Mekong-Japan Summit Meeting in the State Guest House in Minato Ward, Tokyo, on Saturday.
PHOTO: Reuters

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe pledged to extend official development assistance worth ¥750 billion (S$8.21 b) to five countries of the Mekong River region during the Mekong-Japan Summit Meeting in Tokyo on Saturday.

The amount of aid, which will be offered over three years from fiscal 2016, is the largest since the meeting was launched in 2009. Japan's increased aid is intended to tap into infrastructure demand in the fast-growing Southeast Asian countries with Japan's high-quality infrastructure. Such a move is apparently aimed in part at countering the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank led by China.

The annual summit meeting, held at the State Guest House in Akasaka, Tokyo, was also attended by Abe's counterparts from Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand and Vietnam.

At the beginning of the meeting, Abe said, "The peace and stability of the Mekong region is of great importance to Japan."

The meeting ended after the New Tokyo Strategy 2015 for Mekong-Japan Cooperation, a joint statement that includes Japan's aid plans for the Mekong nations, was adopted.

The scale of the ODA, which Japan has announced at the meeting every three years, was more than ¥500 billion in 2009 and ¥600 billion in 2012.

The joint statement said, "In order to respond to vast infrastructure demand and achieve 'quality growth' in the region, both sides reaffirmed that it is vital to promote 'quality infrastructure' in the Mekong region."

In addition to support for infrastructure development, Japan and the five countries have reaffirmed that they will increase "soft efforts" such as by cultivating human resources and advancing industrial structures. By helping the region achieve sustainable economic growth, Japan aims to distinguish its contribution from AIIB projects, which are expected to feature low-cost infrastructure development.

Regarding broader aspects of regional development, the strategy stressed the importance of coordination with international organisations. Under the strategy, Japan and the Mekong region countries referred to co-operation particularly with the Japan-led Asian Development Bank, describing it as an institution "which has accumulated long-term experience and knowledge in poverty reduction and infrastructure development in the Mekong region."

Over maritime security, in an apparent warning against China's land reclamation, the statement said, "Both sides noted concerns expressed over the recent development in the South China Sea, which will further complicate the situation and erode trust and confidence and may undermine regional peace, security and stability."

It also expressed "deep concerns" over North Korea's continued development of nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles, calling on Pyongyang to refrain from further provocations. The statement highlighted the importance of addressing humanitarian concerns, including the abduction issue.

The Mekong-Japan Summit Meeting is held every year and this year's is the seventh. In addition to the group summit, Abe held separate bilateral talks with the Mekong leaders.

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