SECRETARY CLINTON: Thank you so much for being here for the Friends of the Lower Mekong meeting, and let me begin by thanking our host, the Government of Cambodia. Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Hor Namhong, thank you so much. There are many familiar faces from last year’s meeting as well as a few new ones. I’d like to welcome our colleagues from the nonprofit organizations and academic institutions who are joining us for the first time this year. I know we will benefit from your insights. And as I said in the ministerial meeting of the Lower Mekong Initiative just a few minutes ago, we’re very pleased to have our latest new member, and we are looking forward to working with the officials in Nay Pyi Taw on so many of these important initiatives. And we’re pleased that the Foreign Minister could be with us.
We are here because each of us supports the evolution of a strong ASEAN as the anchor for stability and prosperity in the Asia Pacific. And as ASEAN itself has made clear, in order to reach that goal, we need to narrow the development gap among member-states and improve regional integration throughout the Mekong subregion. So when our fellow members of the Lower Mekong Initiative came to us and suggested creating a new group that would coordinate the efforts of many donors and institutions who provide assistance in this region, we were eager to help. After all, the development community has been talking for years about how we need to improve donor coordination and support country ownership of assistance programs. In creating the Friends of the Lower Mekong, we saw an opportunity to show that we are backing up our word with action.
For the United States, the Friends of the Lower Mekong is just one part of our long-term commitment to the region. I announced earlier today that we are launching a series of new programs which we’re calling LMI 2020 that will support each of the initiative’s pillars. Initially, we seek to invest $50 million over three years in LMI 2020, and that is in addition to the bilateral assistance we already provide. This funding will help train the region’s next generation of public policy experts and leaders, ramp up the fight against malaria, promote innovation and sound policies for sustainable infrastructure, focus on many of the problems that the nations represented here have brought to our attention.
Now, of course, each of the governments and organizations around the table could tell a similar story about your contributions. And we think in order to have maximum impact, we need to coordinate all of our efforts. And the question we face is how to do that most effectively. Today I want to propose a two-track structure for the Friends of the Lower Mekong that will help us make the most of our efforts.
One track would be a dialogue among partner countries, aid agencies, NGOs, and the multilateral development institutions, building on the principles that were adopted in Paris, Accra, and Busan. We would expand information sharing, support efforts to strengthen country ownership, and encourage emerging donors to commit to delivering results with accountability and transparency.
The other track would consist of the dialogues we were already having at the level of senior officials and ministers. Our respective donor agencies would also be party to those discussions, and the agenda could include human security challenges that cross national boundaries, such as the impact of hydropower, development, environmental degradation, climate change, health, infrastructure development, trafficking in drugs and human beings, and migration.
Today I would ask the FLM ministers to endorse these two tracks as steps we will take to better results for the people of the region.
And finally, I would like to emphasize the importance of supporting the Mekong River Commission. The Mekong River Basin is one of the world’s most productive ecosystems. It’s really a miracle of the way it operates in this region. Millions – tens, hundreds of millions of people – depend directly or indirectly on it for their livelihoods. But it is also extremely vulnerable to the effects of climate change and infrastructure development. That’s why it’s important that national and regional strategies be based on sound scientific assessments of any impact that could be forthcoming.
The United States believes that the Mekong River Commission is the best forum for facilitating these assessments. Earlier today I announced we are prepared to commit up to $1 million to support the commission studies on sustainable management and development of the Mekong River which will look at, among other things, the potential impact of future dams on the main stem of the river. I had an excellent series of discussions with the Government of Lao PDR, and I thank the Minister, the Prime Minister for those discussions.
And we have twinned the Mekong River Commission with the Mississippi River Commission, because I’ll be very honest with you; we made a lot of mistakes. Just to be very blunt about it, we started more than a hundred years ago, so we’ve learned some hard lessons about what happens when you make certain infrastructure decisions. And I think that we all can contribute to helping the nations of the Mekong region avoid the mistakes that we and others made. And I think it’s important that the Friends of the Lower Mekong support these studies and support the Mekong River Commission.
Because after all, our ultimate goal is to support the countries of this region as you work to provide your people with a better future. And that does include good schools, health care, electricity, economic opportunity, connectivity. And if we work together, I believe that we can contribute to the extraordinary progress we see taking place here in the Lower Mekong Region.
So thank you all for being with us, and thank you for being committed to this important effort.