The Mekong Institute: An Aid Success Story: Grant Klinkum Discusses New Zealand Overseas Development Assistance, the Mekong Institute and Greater Mekong Sub-Region Development and Integration

By Klinkum, Grant | New Zealand International Review, September-October 2002 | Go to article overview

The Mekong Institute: An Aid Success Story: Grant Klinkum Discusses New Zealand Overseas Development Assistance, the Mekong Institute and Greater Mekong Sub-Region Development and Integration


Klinkum, Grant, New Zealand International Review


In recognition of the distinctive and shared interests of nations bordering the Mekong River, the term Greater Mekong Sub-region (GMS) has been gaining currency among international and regional institutions, non-government organisations and academics. With the inclusion of China's Yunnan province, the GMS is not simply a subset of ASEAN. The rationale for co-operation between Laos, Vietnam, Cambodia, Yunnan, Myanmar and Thailand runs deeper than the shared river. Similar challenges relating to economic development, transition from planned to market economies, trade access, transportation, and land and water use drive the trend toward cooperation.

The Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP) has declared the period 2000-09 the decade of Greater Mekong Sub-region Development Co-operation. Agencies that have supported GMS economic development and co-operation, such as the Asian Development Bank (ADB) and ESCAP, have focused on promoting sustainable development through co-operation in areas such as energy, tourism, environment and telecommunications. The ADB in particular has supported transport infrastructure development in the area of roading and bridge building. The development of an east-west economic corridor between Da Nang in Vietnam and Mawlamyine in Myanmar, and a north-south economic corridor between Kunming in China and Chiang Rai in Thailand are key components of sub-regional integration and will do much to facilitate the movement of people and goods.

Politically, GMS countries include a slowly consolidating democracy (Cambodia), a maturing democracy (Thailand), a military junta which removed a democratically elected government from office (Myanmar), and three socialist regimes in which market forces are encouraged to varying degrees (Yunnan, Vietnam and Laos). Historically, conflict between various individual countries and groups of countries within the GMS has been bitter and complex. However, the economic imperatives of a market of more than 250 million are enabling GMS countries to transcend political and ideological differences. Increasingly then, issues of co-operation within the GMS are becoming logistical and technical--such as the need for more uniform legal and accounting practices--rather than political.

With average growth rates of around 8 per cent per annum, the GMS is among the fastest growing areas in the world. (1) GMS trade and intra-regional trade--especially with ASEAN--are growing strongly. A clear commitment to infra-structural development as a precursor to fuller trade growth is likely to pay future dividends. Although the European Union and the United States are reluctant to invest in Myanmar more generally, trade liberalisation and relatively under-developed natural and human resource assets are likely to attract foreign investment to the GMS.

Long-standing commitment

Through its establishment and financing of the Mekong Institute in Khon Kaen, north-east Thailand, New Zealand has been instrumental in supporting human resource development and integration in the GMS. New Zealand's long-standing commitment to security, economic growth and regional integration in the region is underlined by on-going overseas development assistance commitments to the APEC Development Fund, the Mekong River Commission, the Asian Institute of Technology and, since 1996, the Mekong Institute. With expenditure to date of NZ$18 million, the Mekong Institute represents New Zealand's largest single investment in an aid project in recent years. This level of support for the Institute is telling evidence of New Zealand's commitment to regional development and co-operation in the GMS.

From 1997 to October 2001, some 1000 participants from GMS countries have undertaken courses in economic management, public sector reform, governance and development. Specialist courses on eco-tourism, banking and financial sector management and reform are interspersed with more generalist courses on economies in transition. …

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