China offers huge sums to Mekong basin countries

The leaders attending the 5th Greater Mekong Sub-region Summit in Bangkok link their hands during the opening ceremony yesterday.

Chinese Prime MInister Li Keqiang appeared to be very generous at the Greater Mekong Sub-region (GMS) summit yesterday, offering large amounts of financial and technical support for infrastructure development projects in the region.

He also came up with five proposals on transport links, investment schemes, financial support, promotion of livelihoods and people's living conditions, as well as environmental protection inMekong basin countries - Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand and Vietnam.

The summit adopted a Regional Investment Framework Implementation Plan (2014-2018), which identifies 92 high-priority projects at an estimated total cost of $30 billion, 90 per cent of which will be spent on transportation.

Li said a memorandum of understanding signed between China and Thailand on Friday for a US$10.6-billion (S$13.9 billion) standard-gauge railway showcased transport development in the region.

China will support the rail project in all aspects technically and financially, he said, adding: "you have my word. Chinese rail is high quality, high standard, high technology and high speed".

This standard-gauge rail line in the pan-Asia region would be a good example for rail networks in Indochina, he said, noting that it would be a test of Chinese technology in the global market too.

During the summit, China also offered 3 billion yuan (S$634 million) in soft loans as well as some from the newly established Silk Road Fund for countries in the Mekong region to help implement the plan, Deputy Transport Minister Akom Termpitayapaisit said.

Of the total investment earmarked for transport, 44 per cent would be spent in China, 26 per cent in Laos and 10 per cent in Thailand, he said. Individual countries would respond by seeking funds for their part of the project, he said, noting that the Asian Development Bank and other financial institutions could also help raise capital.

In the plenary session of the summit, Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha proposed a government action plan in five areas to fully implement the regional investment framework over the next decade.

He said Thailand would establish special-border zones with neighbouring countries to boost economic activity along an economic corridor. Thailand already has pilot projects in Mae Sot, Mukdahan, Sa Kaew, Trat and Songkhla provinces, he said.

Thailand would build infrastructure for land and marine transport, notably railways, he said, citing the Aranyaprathet to Poi Pet and Nong Khai-Vientiane-Kunming routes.

Like Li, Prayut also highlighted the MoU signed on Friday to jointly develop the Nong Khai-Kaeng Khoi-Bangkok, and Kaeng Khoi-Map Ta Phut rail lines.

Thailand also talked with Myanmar and Laotian officials about the possibility of building a second bridge at the Mae Sot-Myawaddy border, plus a fifth Friendship Bridge at Bueng Kan-Paksan in Boli Khamsai - which has already been designed, he said.

As for regulations facilitating cross-border transport, Prayut said his government would ratify the Cross-Border Transport Agreement (CBTA) at the beginning of next year.

The CBTA, if it is ratified by all six nations, would cut border-crossing procedures in the region. Myanmar has also yet to ratify the pact.

On the energy front, Prayut praised the establishment of the Regional Power Coordination Centre to work on links of power production and supply in the Mekong basin.

Prayut said the Neighbouring Countries Economic Development Cooperation Agency and the Thailand International Development Cooperation Agency play major roles in terms of technical and financial support to contribute to the development in the GMS. He also called on the region to pay more attention to environmental protection and disaster management.