(Mizzima) – Five Mekong basin nations will receive US$ 7.4 billion over the next three years in development assistance from Japan to improve transportation connectivity and infrastructure.
Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda and his counterparts from Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand and Vietnam met in Tokyo to conclude the deal.
Japan’s pledge comes as competition to gain influence between Japan, China and other countries heats up in Southeast Asia and the Pacific region. The U.S. recently said it was renewing its focus in the region.
The agreement includes 57 projects that focus on developing infrastructure in the five countries. The projects include ports, highways, power plants and high-speed railways and are estimated to total about $28 billion, officials said.
The development aid would be phased in over three years, and the joint declaration said it would be “accompanied with the transmission of Japanese expertise” in the various projects.
The summit comes amid democratic and economic reforms in Burma, whose economy has languished for years under a military junta that last year handed power over to a nominally civilian government. The reforms have also started moves toward the lifting of Western sanctions against Burma.
Burmese President Thein Sein told Japanese business leaders that his impoverished nation would “make every effort towards developing the economy, environment, human resources and infrastructure.”
Businessweek magazine reported last week that the Tokyo Stock Exchange and Daiwa Securities Group said they had reached an agreement with the Central Bank of Myanmar to help establish a stock market by 2015.
On global issues, Noda and Mekong leaders said they supported the recent U.N. Security Council presidential statement that condemned North Korea for its April 13 rocket launch as a violation of council resolutions and demanded the country not to proceed with any further launch or nuclear test.
According to a press statement, they also reaffirmed the importance of upholding the freedom and safety of navigation in the seas, a reference to some Southeast Asian countries’ dispute with China involving maritime claims in the South China Sea.
The document said the new strategy “puts forward a future vision for the region and establishes new pillars of Mekong-Japan cooperation.”
In mapping out areas for cooperation, they noted that 2015 is the target year for the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations to create an economic community, which Japan has also supported.
The document stressed transport connectivity and said the Mekong region has significant potential as a tourist destination. The region boasts 16 World Heritage sites including Vietnam's Halong Bay and Cambodia's Angkor Wat.