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  • Vietnam and Mekong Cooperative Mechanisms
  • To Minh Thu (bio) and Le Dinh Tinh (bio)

Regional cooperation in the Mekong Basin has become increasingly dynamic in recent years with the emergence of new mechanisms and the reshuffling of existing ones. During the 1990s, Mekong cooperative efforts were primarily confined to the riparian countries. However, over the past ten years, as a result of its strategic location and growth potential, the Mekong Basin region has attracted the attention of major powers and developmental partners, including the United States, China, Japan, India and the European Union. The cooperative mechanisms both among riparian countries and with external partners have provided platforms for discussion of regional issues, especially water resource management, economic development and integration into the regional and global markets, regional connectivity, and addressing common challenges.

In 2018, a series of summits related to the Mekong region took place. In January, Cambodia hosted the 2nd Mekong-Lancang Cooperation (MLC) Summit. In March, Vietnam held the 6th Greater Mekong Subregion (GMS) Summit and the 10th Cambodia-Laos-Vietnam (CLV) Development Triangle Area Summit. In April, the 3rd Mekong River Commission Summit took place in Cambodia. This was followed by the 8th Ayeyawady–Chao Phraya–Mekong Economic Cooperation Strategy (ACMECS) Summit in Thailand in June and the 10th Mekong-Japan Summit in October. In addition, a number of Ministerial-level meetings were held, [End Page 395] laying the ground for further cooperation as well as the restructuring of many of the major cooperative frameworks. Vietnam has made significant contributions to the success of these summits, particularly through hosting the GMS Summit and the CLV Development Triangle Area Summit, and its active participation in others. This chapter will review the development of these major cooperative frameworks in the Mekong Basin and Vietnam's proactive and comprehensive approach to these mechanisms, including the newly established MLC framework.

Diversity and Mixture of Cooperative Mechanisms

At present there exist more than ten cooperative mechanisms in the Mekong Basin Region. Some involve only the riparian countries while others are between the countries along the Mekong and its external partners. The following section briefly explains the formation and recent development of these mechanisms.

Cooperative Mechanisms between Riparian Countries

The Mekong River Commission (MRC)

In April 1995, Cambodia, Laos, Thailand and Vietnam signed "The Mekong Agreement for Cooperation for the Sustainable Development of the Mekong River Basin", which established the Mekong River Commission.

Among the many existing cooperative mechanisms in the Mekong basin, the MRC is the only organization that was formed based on an international agreement, with a well-established operating structure serving as a recognized knowledge hub and platform for water diplomacy in the region. With the Mekong Agreement, the MRC is also the sole organization that has the function of setting legal frameworks for water resource management, with specific and strict regulations on water use. However, the absence of China and Myanmar means that these countries are not bound by decisions and consultation made by the MRC. In addition, despite having a series of procedures designed to provide a systematic and uniform process for implementing the agreement and a large number of expert reports for consultation by member countries, the MRC has been criticized for lacking legally binding authority over its members.1 Some donors have also cut their funding to the commission, accusing it of financial mismanagement. As a result, the MRC has recently undergone major reforms to transfer ownership of the commission from foreign donors to the member countries, including a new funding mechanism in which member countries will gradually increase their contributions to the MRC, with the goal of achieving financial independence by 2030.2 [End Page 396]

Amid criticism of its efficiency and authority, the 3rd MRC Summit in Siem Reap in April 2018 issued the Phnom Penh Declaration, which "reiterates the MRC member countries' highest-level political commitment to the 1995 Mekong Agreement and the primary and unique role of the MRC in cooperating on sustainable development of water and related resources in the Mekong River Basin". Furthermore, the declaration articulates the expectation for "the MRC to foster joint efforts and partnerships to optimize any development opportunities and to address challenges and risks through a...


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