The MR has a long history of development and dialogue among lower riparian countries. An increasing number of river-based cooperation institutions have emerged in mainland Southeast Asia since the early 1990s. Among these are the MRC, the GMS, and the Mekong Basin Development (MBD) that take place under the overarching framework of the ASEAN.

Regional Development and Integration

The MRC is an intergovernmental organization for regional dialogue and cooperation in the LMB, established in 1995, based on the Mekong Agreement on Cooperation for Sustainable Development of the MR (the so-called 1995 Mekong Agreement). As a successor of the Mekong committee, which was established in 1957, the MRC has the longest history of cooperation in the region. This regional institution works with many different partners, responsible for promoting and developing sustainable management strategies across all sectors including sustaining fisheries, identifying opportunities for agriculture, maintaining the freedom of navigation, flood management, and preserving important ecosystems (see MRC 2016: annex A). However, the MRC has failed to attract China and Myanmar to join.

In 1992, the MR nations launched the GMS Economic Cooperation Program to promote integrative economic links among riparian nations. The GMS comprises Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Viet Nam, and the Yunnan province and the Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region of China. With support from the ADB and other donors, the GMS programme has become a key for growth and development in mainland Southeast Asia over the past few decades. Particularly, the new GMS Strategic Framework for 2012-22, adopted in December 2011, expands the GMS programme from conventional infrastructure to multi-sector investments designed to allow the implementation of large-scale water infrastructures (such as building commercial relationships in terms of cross-border trade and transportation, energy development, investment, and water resource usage). This was also considered as a peaceful resolution of conflict in Indo-China relationships in the early 1990s: the integration of Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, and Viet Nam into the ASEAN; the gradual opening of the Yunnan province and China itself to its southern neighbours; and with financial support.

ASEAN was established on 8 August 1967 in Bangkok, Thailand, with the signing of the ASEAN Declaration by five countries: Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, and Thailand. It was extended to five other nations: Brunei (1984), Viet Nam (1995), Laos (1997), Myanmar (1997), and Cambodia (1999). To strengthen the interconnections and economic linkages between ASEAN and MR countries, ASEAN set up an ASEAN-MBD Cooperation (AMBDC) on 17 June 1996, consisting of all member states of ASEAN and China. The AMBDC is considered an important framework to enhance and sustain growth of the MR and a policy dialogue for ASEAN and China to foster economic development and cooperation.[1] In addition, the establishment of the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) in December 2015 is a major milestone for regional economic integration in ASEAN. According to Petri, Plummer, and Zhai (2012), the AEC offers many opportunities to the business community and general public because it permits free movement of goods, services, foreign direct investment, and skilled labour and free flow of capital. However, how Mekong countries decide to pursue future hydropower development is perhaps one of the most challenging strategic decisions they have faced since the signing of the 1995 Mekong Agreement (MRC 2010).

  • [1] ASEAN's Mekong concept document emphasizes the complementarity of existing development programmes linking them to the Asian Development Bank-Greater Mekong Sub-regionand the UNDP-Mekong River Commission (Weatherbee 1997).
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