How meaningful is the new US-Mekong partnership?

Published onSeptember 18, 2020

On September 11, the United States and the five lower Mekong nations launched a new framework for multilateral cooperation amid rising concerns about China’s expanding influence in mainland Southeast Asia. In announcing the new Mekong-U.S. Partnership at a meeting in Hanoi, the U.S. State Department pledged at least $153 million to Thailand, Myanmar, Cambodia, Vietnam and Laos for a variety of collaborative projects. These include grants for hydrological data-sharing, disaster management, and efforts to fight the region’s endemic levels of crossborder crime… In a statement dated September 11, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo made the U.S. aims in mainland Southeast Asia more explicit: “We stand for transparency and respect in the Mekong region, where the CCP [Chinese Communist Party] has abetted arms and narcotics trafficking and unilaterally manipulated upstream dams, exacerbating an historic drought,” he said in the statement. The Mekong-U.S. Partnership represents a welcome and belated engagement with an important region, where China launched the Lancang-Mekong Cooperation (LMC) mechanism in 2014 to guide its own engagements with the region.