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Strengthen Regional Cooperation

The transfer of advantages of resources in the Lancang-Mekong River region into economic advantages must happen soon, so as to realize comprehensive development. 

The 4,688-kilometer-long Lancang-Mekong River is the longest in Southeast Asia, flowing through China, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam. With a total area of 810,000 square kilometers and a population of 250 million, the whole basin of the river is called the Greater Mekong Sub-region (GMS). The GMS, a land primed for cultivation, is blessed with rich natural resources yet low-level economic development.


Under the conditions of flourishing sub-regional, regional and global cooperation, great progress has been achieved in cooperation and development in the GMS.


In fact, four of the GMS nations -- Laos, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam -- cooperated in the 1950s and 1960s, but relations were interrupted by the Vietnam War.


Since the early 1990s the economies of the Southeast Asian nations have grown rapidly, and China has normalized its relations with all the Southeast Asian nations, prompting the launch of various cooperation mechanisms for developing the GMS.


The 1997 financial crisis in Asia made GMS cooperation stall. But with the shadow of the crisis passed, the GMS nations can all once again strive to eliminate poverty through development.


At first, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) expected the European Union (EU) and the United States to initiate GMS cooperation. However, neither the EU nor the United States was interested in this project because of the poor economic basis of the region.


Though the GMS is rich in natural resources, its infrastructure is very poor. Though local labor is cheap, workers tend to be unskilled. In addition, due to political reasons, both the United States and the EU have imposed economic sanctions on Myanmar because of the country's alleged human rights record.


GMS economic cooperation had not been significantly improving until the substantial efforts of China.


The first summit meeting was held in November 2002. Government leaders from China, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam attended this meeting, where they decided a summit would be held every three years. The second meeting will be held in Kunming, China this year.


The five GMS nations have reached a consensus, while cooperating with China in recent years, that China's economic development is an opportunity rather than a threat. It is the strategic choice of the developing ASEAN members to seek economic integration with China so as to realize economic development in this region and to reduce the gap between the rich and the poor within ASEAN.


For China, participation in GMS cooperation is perceived as helpful for promoting the building of the China-ASEAN Free Trade Area.


China has been making large investments in the infrastructure construction of the GMS, such as in road building. China has also reduced or remitted the debts of some GMS nations and opened its market to them in order to help these countries expand their economies, support the integration process of ASEAN and further enhance bilateral friendship and cooperation between China and these nations.


China's substantial participation in the development of the GMS has fully demonstrated its sincerity and eliminated worry and doubt among the GMS countries, as well as ASEAN nations.


Politically, China's participation in GMS cooperation and development helps to create a stable and favorable environment for its peaceful development.


Economically, China's participation contributes to developing comprehensive cooperation and promoting common prosperity.


There is no doubt that China's participation in GMS cooperation is of both pioneering and exemplary significance. It is also of strategic importance.


Building a well-off society in an all-round way and keeping on high growth are China's new target in the new century. Developing friendly cooperative relations with neighboring countries is a crucial external condition of China's modernization.


Due to geographical, historical and ethnic reasons, the GMS has inherent relations with China and a benign basis for mutual trust. Therefore, this region has a direct and important influence on China's modernization. Since the GMS nations are geographically connected and economically integrated with China, this sub-region is an ideal area to realize a win-win situation for all nations and to help eliminate the so-called "China threat theory."


Since the 1990s, China and the GMS nations have set the goal of "building a good-neighborly and mutual trust partnership towards the 21st century" by signing documents respectively. China's positive participation in GMS cooperation and development is of great significance to the peace, stability and development of the region and to safeguarding the security of China, in particular the southwest of the country.


The GMS is key to China's strategy of "developing the west" and "going outwards." Cooperation in this region plays an important role in promoting the development and economic takeoff of China's southwestern area.


Of course, there are also some challenges to cooperation within the region.


First, as far as China's domestic situation is concerned, the main body of China's participation is Yunnan, which, as a province, is limited in its capabilities compared with the legal status of partners as countries.


Second, since differences in interests exist between the GMS nations and many kinds of mechanisms are playing a part in GMS cooperation, coordinating becomes difficult due to various national situations and overall levels of development.


Third, a lack of capital also poses a serious challenge to GMS cooperation. Most of the capital comes from international investment, which is subject to changes in political and economic conditions.


Faced with these challenges, China should adhere to the policy of "being friendly and making partners with neighboring countries" and to the principle of mutual benefit, promoting improvement of the economic strength of all nations, making joint efforts with all parties to realize a win-win situation and a sustainable development.


(China Daily March 29, 2005)

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