by H. E. Mr. Osamu Fujimura, State Secretary for Foreign Affairs of Japan,
at the Mekong-Japan International Conference on the East-West
Economic Corridor and the Southern Economic Corridor
September 9th 2010, Bangkok, Thailand
Your Excellency, Mr. Kasit Piromya,
Distinguished representatives from the Mekong region countries, relevant aid agencies and international organizations,
Ladies and gentlemen,
Let me begin by expressing my sincere respect to the Kingdom of Thailand for taking the initiative of holding this International Conference today.The conference, will discuss the development of the Mekong region under the very initiative of the Mekong region countries, which I believe is an excellent product of synergy between ownership and partnership.
Under "Japan-Thailand Partnership Program," Japan has extended various assistances to the development of the Mekong region in close collaboration with the Kingdom of Thailand, whose role as a development partner is becoming ever more important. It is our great pleasure to co-host this Conference with Thailand today.
Ladies and Gentlemen, it is said that the beginning of interactions between Japan and the Mekong region dates back to approximately 600 years ago. At that time, trading ships were traveling across the ocean, and Ryukyu -- today's Okinawa -- was the center of Japan's such active trading with Southeast Asian countries including the Mekong region. The vast ocean of Asia functioned as "sea corridors" which connected Japan and the Mekong region already in the past.
And today, a lot of Japanese companies are heading towards this region. With the increased attractiveness of the Mekong region as an investment destination, foreign investment is flowing in from around the world, and various products made in this region are shipped to Japan and other parts of the world. The East-West Economic Corridor (EWEC) and the Southern Economic Corridor (SEC) are the main arteries of the Indochina Peninsula, connecting the region from east to west, and functioning as useful infrastructures for the private companies conducting business in the region. The transnational flow of people and goods has been accelerating each day.
Actually, I myself drove across the EWEC yesterday near the border of Thailand and Lao PDR. Watching the scene of trucks and people running across the Second Thai-Lao Mekong Bridge, I was overwhelmed by the dynamism of cross-border trade, which surely demonstrates the potentials for further economic growth of this entire region.
Different countries and regions "connect" with one another. The potentials for growth by such "connections" is immeasurable. That is vital for the Japanese companies pursing optimum distribution of production bases in the region as well as for the local businesses here, and is also indispensable for the potential growth of the region to fully bloom.
Ladies and gentlemen, as you know, ASEAN has embarked on the improvement of "ASEAN Connectivity." Japan has been actively supporting such efforts to develop both hardware and software infrastructures in the region, and assisting the improvement of "Connectivity."
Even since the concept of the "Economic Corridors" was adopted at the 1998 GMS Ministerial Meeting, the total length of roads that Japan has developed so far in the region reaches beyond one thousand kilometers.Likewise, Japan has constructed more than 300 bridges and offered the human-resource development programs to tens of thousands of people in the region.
However, it is not the "volume" of assistance we are proud of. We are actually proud of the fact that our cooperation with the people in the Mekong region is of high quality, with good faith, always fighting against new challenges, and above all, with a spirit of "working together and sharing valuable experiences," which will continue to be the same way in the future. Our partnership is the one based on "mutual trust" where we "think and act together" and always "evolves."
Japan will continue to develop both the "Corridors" themselves as well as roads, seaports and airports, which are connected to the "Corridors," in order to reduce the transit time and logistics cost in the Mekong region. Japan will also develop infrastructures for the industrial development of major cities in the region.
This past June, Japan decided to construct a bridge across the Mekong River in Neak Loueng in Cambodia along the SEC. The completion of the bridge -- expected a few years later -- will result in an enormous improvement of the economic efficiency in the SEC. We also currently conduct a research and study to construct a new deep seaport in Lach Huyen, Viet Nam. We believe that, following the construction of the seaport capable of handling more cargo and the further facilitation of trade with other Asian countries, the utility value of the EWEC will increase accordingly. We intend to realize this project through the public-private partnership. It is essential for us to put our heads together to find ways and means to use the resources of the private sector to achieve sustainable development of the Mekong region, which requires huge financial demands.
On the other hand, what I would like to emphasize here is that it is not just the hard infrastructure -- which is called "physical connectivity" -- that leads to the economic growth. It is also the institutional and human-resource developments that are necessary to run and manage the hard infrastructure. Japan has put forth particular efforts on institutional development and human-resource training, and Japan will further strengthen these kinds of assistance in the future.
In order to maximize the effectiveness of these two Corridors, "efficient customs," "harmonization of rules and standards," and "enhancement of trade, investment and industrial development" are indispensable. Japan will continue to support them. For instance, we have held workshops in the five Mekong region countries including Myanmar to support the upgrading of logistics and distribution management.
The private sector which uses the Corridors requests speedy and coherent custom services to realize efficient logistics. We will provide assistance in this field as well. Japan provides assistance projects for improving the capacity of frontline customs officers along with customs equipment, in order to modernize and improve the region's custom services.
Furthermore, if small and medium-sized cities along the Economic Corridors can develop businesses by making the full use of the Corridors, that would contribute to further activation of the Corridors. Japan will support the program proposed by the Mekong Institute in Khon Kaen, which aims at enhancing capacities of provincial and local chambers of commerce along the East-West Economic Corridor.
It is needless to say that we will support the Economic Corridors in both hardware and software aspects. But, what is ultimately significant is to develop the local industries utilizing the Economic Corridors. With belief that the training of human resources becomes a vital driving force for the development of industries, Japan has contributed to the development of industrial human resources in the Mekong region for many years.
For instance, we established "Japan Centers" by Japan's ODA assistance in Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam, where business courses are offered in order to develop business human resources. Also, we recently began to offer region-wide training programs which connect "Japan Centers" in these three countries and Japan. I hear that the success of those who studied at "Japan Centers" have led to the higher competitiveness of the manufacturing industries in the Mekong region. I even hear that some welding engineers with the Japanese techniques and skills can now produce mechanical parts, which is difficult to produce even in Japan.
As Japan is known for its technology power and manufacturing skills, we will utilize our own knowledge we acquired from the past experiences of growth, and will continue to support in fostering business human resources that can meet the needs existing in the Mekong region.
Ladies and gentlemen, I so far explained the basic concept regarding Japan's cooperation with Mekong, but there is one important thing we should not overlook. Our partnership must be the one which can overcome various vulnerabilities of the region. The kind of development we seek in this region should not leave behind those people still in the vulnerable state or should not be attained by sacrificing them.
It is crucial to pay utmost attention to this aspect, so that the poverty group with weak competitiveness will not be left behind from a variety of development opportunities, even after the "connectivity" improves and the free trade spreads.
From this perspective, Japan will promote the cooperation with people in the Mekong region in areas such as rural development and social welfare. In particular, we believe that a development of agriculture is important, which is a basic means of living for the poverty class. We will also cooperate with the Mekong region on issues that require region-wide efforts, such as infectious disease and human trafficking.
Moreover, it is significant to harmonize the development of the region and the environment. The Mekong region is facing environmental destruction caused by poverty or rapid economic growth. It is also crucial for the entire region to address these challenges and to protect rich lands, forests, water resources and urban environments. From this perspective, Japan proposed "A Decade toward the Green Mekong" Initiative at the Mekong-Japan Summit Meeting held last year. We will bring the concept into concrete shape towards the next Summit Meeting in October, while embarking on concrete cooperation as well. As mentioned earlier, we believe that the measures under the Mekong-Japan cooperation framework will surely contribute to the enhancement of the "ASEAN Connectivity." Keeping in mind that all the people should be included in the beneficiaries of "ASEAN Connectivity," we would like to work closely together with you all to deepen the development of the Mekong region, with the spirit of "Think together, Act together."
Thank you very much.
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