The US is a long-standing partner of Mekong countries in promoting peace and prosperity in the region. Our enduring partnership was on full display last week when the US and Cambodia co-chaired the second Mekong-US Partnership (MUSP) ministerial meeting – an important regional mechanism for addressing shared challenges and strengthening cooperation.
At last week’s meeting, US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken highlighted the $4.3 billion in assistance that the US has provided to Mekong countries since 2009, achieving significant advances in management of water and other natural resources, public health, education, economic connectivity, and food security. This mirrors our bilateral commitment to the people of Cambodia, where the US has provided over $3 billion in aid over the past 30 years, creating the conditions for peace and economic development.
At no time has this bilateral and regional support been clearer than during the global pandemic. As part of President Joe Biden’s pledge to deliver 500 million vaccine doses to countries worldwide, in recent weeks the US donated over eight million doses to Mekong countries. This included more than one million single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccines to Cambodia through the COVAX mechanism – on top of a $4 billion financial commitment to this facility which has already delivered AstraZeneca doses to the Kingdom. We are proud to see these vaccines being used to inoculate hard to reach rural communities and vulnerable migrant and prison populations. The US has also made available over $15 million in supplemental assistance and critical technical support through USAID, the US Centers for Disease Control, and the National Institutes of Health to help Cambodia address the public health and economic implications of the pandemic.
Globally, the US is by far the largest donor of Covid-19 vaccines. Our singular goal is to save lives and livelihoods and thus the US neither sells nor attaches any political or economic conditions to these doses.
While fighting the pandemic is paramount, the US and Mekong countries are also working together to protect the region’s vital ecosystems and natural resources from the threat of climate change. As part of this effort, we are striving to achieve our shared goal of net zero emissions by 2050. The US also supports programmes like the Mekong Water Data Initiative, which provides accurate, real-time data on Mekong River water flows to the public. With likeminded partners like the Mekong River Commission, the US shares innovative technology with Mekong countries to enhance flood and drought forecasting.
Expanded economic and energy connectivity and easier access to development financing will be essential for Mekong countries to recover from the pandemic’s devastating impact on communities and livelihoods. Through new public-private initiatives, together we are developing high-quality, sustainable infrastructure projects, especially in clean energy.
Through MUSP, we’re also prioritising the combatting of trafficking in narcotics, wildlife, timber, and persons. The US and Mekong partners have a common vision for strengthening the region’s human capital, especially in women’s economic empowerment and youth engagement. To this end, our education and cultural exchanges, like the flagship Young Southeast Asia Leaders Initiative (YSEALI) that counts 150,000 members in its network across the Mekong and all of Southeast Asia, promote human resource development and strengthen our deep people-to-people ties. More than 3.5 million Americans, including 300,000 Cambodian Americans, trace their heritage to the Mekong region.
The bonds between the US and the Mekong region are strong and growing. The US is by far the largest export market for the region, including Cambodia. Cambodian exports to the US reached nearly $7 billion in 2020, accounting for over a third of the Kingdom’s exports and supporting millions of jobs. US trade with Mekong countries as a whole topped $115 billion in 2020. Over 1,000 US companies are active in the Mekong region, bringing high-quality investment and helping to fuel economic growth and entrepreneurship.
The US is committed to the Mekong region as an integral part of ASEAN. We welcomed Vietnam’s efforts to raise the profile of the Mekong region during its chairmanship of ASEAN in 2020. And we look forward to working with Cambodia towards this same goal when it takes over as ASEAN Chair in 2022. What happens in the Mekong matters for ASEAN and for ASEAN’s partners, including the US.
The Mekong-US Partnership is proof positive of our shared view that we can only meet today’s global challenges by working together. Mekong countries can count on the US as a strong and reliable partner now and well in the future.
Patrick Murphy is US ambassador to Cambodia