By Hiroshi Yamazaki
Tokyo, Japan — Japan is looking toward five countries along the Mekong River as potential partners and investment opportunities amid the shifting economic and political dynamics of the region and the world. Japanese Foreign Minister Hirobumi Nakasone visited Cambodia and Laos earlier this month to deliver development assistance and strengthen ties with these two countries.
In Cambodia Nakasone handed over Japan-made demining machines, used to locate and destroy anti-personnel landmines, and offered assistance to fight infectious diseases and renovate irrigation facilities. In Laos, he offered financial aid of 1.2 billion yen (US$13.5 million) for clearing unexploded landmines and helping flood disaster victims.
It was former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe who decided to prioritize the Mekong region for Japanese assistance for three years starting in 2007. This will be the final year of that program.
In addition to Laos and Cambodia, the other three countries are Myanmar, Vietnam and Thailand.
Apart from Thailand, these countries are less developed and politically less democratic than the other members of the Association for Southeast Asian Nations, to which they all belong.
Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar and Vietnam, though showing high annual growth rates ranging from 8 to 13 percent, remain the least developed among ASEAN states in terms of per capita gross domestic product. Top of the four, Vietnam’s US$836 per capita GDP is roughly half that of the Philippines, according to ASEAN statistics.
Vietnam tops the four in other indexes as well: annual GDP is US$71 billion, more than five times higher than the second, Myanmar; Vietnam’s total trade volume of US$110 billion was ten times higher than Myanmar’s. continue http://www.upiasia.com/Economics/2009/01/27/japan_pilots_mekong_development_plan/1288/