The United States, Cambodia, Lao PDR, Myanmar, Thailand, and Vietnam reaffirmed their long-standing relationship by launching the Mekong-U.S. Partnership on September 11. The United States announced plans, working with the U.S. Congress, to increase support for the autonomy, economic independence, good governance, and sustainable growth of Mekong partner countries, noting that upholding these values is important also for the unity and effectiveness of ASEAN.

Expanding U.S. Engagement

Over the course of the Lower Mekong Initiative, from 2009 to 2020, the U.S. Department of State and Agency for International Development (USAID) provided nearly $3.5 billion in assistance to the five Mekong partner countries, including:

  • $1.2 billion for health programs;
  • $734 million for economic growth;
  • $616 million for peace and security;
  • $527 million for human rights and governance
  • $175 million for education and social services; and
  • $165 million for humanitarian assistance.

Building on the successes of the Lower Mekong Initiative, the five Mekong partner countries and the United States launched the Mekong-U.S. Partnership as a strategic forum for cooperation. The Partnership will continue existing work and expand our areas of cooperation, including economic connectivity, energy security, human capital development, transboundary water and natural resources management, and non-traditional security.  The non-traditional security sector comprises collaboration on emerging threats such as health security capacity building and pandemic response, countering transnational crime, cyber security, and countering trafficking in persons, illicit drugs, and wildlife.

The Mekong-U.S. Partnership is guided by values that are aligned with those enshrined in the ASEAN Outlook on the Indo-Pacific and the U.S. Indo-Pacific vision, including equality, good governance, openness, transparency, economic growth, and respect for sovereignty. The Partnership also promotes complementarity with the Ayeyawady-Chao Phraya-Mekong Economic Cooperation Strategy (ACMECS), ASEAN, the Mekong River Commission, and with other Mekong development partners and cooperation mechanisms in line with these values.

The United States is Upgrading our Partnership

  • Providing over $52 million to date in emergency health, humanitarian, economic, and development assistance to combat COVID-19 in countries in the Mekong region.
  • Supporting modern, connected, reliable energy systems through $33 million in Asia Enhancing Development and Growth through Energy (EDGE) funding in Southeast Asia, to increase regional energy trade, access to capital, and private sector engagement.
  • Planning to invest $55 million to strengthen the region’s law enforcement and justice sector capacity to combat transnational crime, in alignment with Australia. The efforts will include strengthening border security; interdicting and disrupting the flow of illicit goods, particularly drugs and precursor chemicals, along key trafficking routes; dismantling transnational criminal organizations; and investigating and prosecuting money laundering and associated financial crimes. An additional $2 million is dedicated to combatting trafficking in persons.
  • Improving energy infrastructure and markets with plans for $6.6 million for the Mekong region in the Department of State’s Power Sector Program.
  • Strengthening regional governance and promoting transparency with $6 million to support local voices and provide platforms to advance their research and explore diverse perspectives, to develop east-west transportation connectivity with India and Bangladesh, to promote women’s economic empowerment, and continue the Third Country Training Program with Singapore.
    • Including strengthening Mekong water security with a planned $1.8 million supporting shared goals with the Mekong River Commission (MRC).
  • Coordinating with Mekong countries and other partners to conduct an expanded disaster relief exercise to strengthen local preparedness and responsiveness.
  • Sponsoring a series of policy dialogues on evolving opportunities and challenges in the Mekong region, to engage policy makers, local communities, and civil society.

Ongoing U.S. Engagement

We will continue supporting the resilience, transparency, and capacity of government institutions and civil society in countries in the Mekong region, making tangible improvements in the lives of people.

Infrastructure and Energy Investments

  • Building on $1 billion the U.S. International Development Finance Corporation (DFC) has already invested in Southeast Asia, the DFC aims to invest and catalyze billions more in Mekong infrastructure in the coming years. Foreign Ministers from Mekong partner countries committed to improving their respective business climates to facilitate two-way trade and investment in support of sustainable, high-quality, private sector-led economic development.
  • Through the Japan-U.S.-Mekong Power Partnership (JUMPP), the United States is providing technical and advisory support to strengthen national and regional power market development,responding to Mekong government priorities.  U.S. assistance promotes high-quality and transparent power sector investment and capacity building to expand regional electricity trade in support of JUMPP and complementary Ayeyawady-Chao Phraya-Mekong Economic Cooperation Strategy (ACMECS) and ASEAN Power Grid initiatives.
  • The United States and Japan, in a JUMPP Joint Statement, announced their intention to expand capacity building for countries in the Mekong region to strengthen energy sector governance, help unlock private investment in Mekong power sectors, and grow cross-border energy trade.
  • The Department of State’s Power Sector Program has provided over 1,000 hours of training to countries in the Mekong region. Our assistance has helped countries increase their use of renewable energy, promote cross-border electricity trade, improve tariff methodologies, and consider energy efficiency norms and standards.  S. technical support has also helped Vietnam establish competitive power markets and improve system operation, and advised Thailand’s electric utility on establishing an energy trading company and on preparing for third-party access to transmission.

Water Security and Transboundary River Management

  • The Sustainable Infrastructure Partnership  (SIP), established by the Friends of the Lower Mekong, strengthened good governance and cooperative management of the Mekong River’s natural resources through capacity building on emerging challenges and opportunities, including groundwater management, remote sensing, cumulative impacts assessment, and socio-economic information sharing.
  • SIP partner Eyes on Earth, Inc. conducted a study that revealed People’s Republic of China upstream dam operations had manipulated natural river flows in the Mekong River, generating widespread media attention and prompting renewed calls for greater transparency in transboundary river governance.
  • The Mekong Water Data Initiative (MWDI), with more than 60 government and non-governmental partners, continued to improve the transboundary management of the Mekong River through data sharing and science-based decision making.
  • In 2019, the Secretary Pompeo launched the MWDI’s platform, a clearinghouse for water-related data sharing, tools, and resources. The site now hosts more than 40 tools from 35+ global partners on river-basin mapping and hydrology, weather forecasting, open-source data analysis tools, ecosystems, and citizen science.
  • NexView partnered with countries in the Mekong region and the MRC to advance science-based decision making for the Mekong River. By visualizing MRC data with Arizona State University’s Decision Theater, NexView enables Mekong communities to explore the possible impacts and tradeoffs of water, energy, and food resources management choices.
  • Sister Rivers Exchange promoted sharing of best practices between the MRC and the Mississippi River Commission with ongoing exchanges on dam safety, shared vision planning, humanitarian assistance, and disaster response exercise and exchange.
  • The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) supported Mekong countries in water and environmental security, disaster risk management technical engineering assistance, and humanitarian assistance construction projects. Examples include assisting the development of the 2021-2030 Mekong Basin Development Strategy, sharing best practices between the MRC and Mississippi River Commission, supporting Lao PDR’s national dam safety initiative, and constructing schools, clinics, water wells, and disaster management coordination centers throughout the Mekong region, including the National Institute for Nutrition in Lao PDR.
  • SERVIR-Mekong, a unique partnership between USAID and NASA, helped Mekong countries reduce vulnerability to drought and flooding exacerbated by upstream dam operations. Together with the MRC, SERVIR-Mekong launched the Drought Early Warning Platform to help forecast and track damaging effects of historical droughts in the Mekong basin.
  • Smart Infrastructure for the Mekong (SIM) designed a series of fishways in the Mekong region to protect food security.

Human Capital Investments

  • The Lower Mekong Initiative Young Scientist Program continues to invest in the next generation of students and young professionals in developing environmental, public health, entrepreneurial, and scientific skills. In 2019-2020, the program focused on the use of informatics tools to tackle vector-borne diseases such as dengue fever. In 2021, the program will focus on innovation in agricultural technologies.
  • The Gender-Based Violence Prevention and Response Initiative supports a coordinated, multi-sector, and comprehensive approach to addressing gender norms that lead to gender-based violence. These can include early and forced marriage, violence in schools, intimate partner violence, and physical and sexual abuse. The initiative reached over 223,000 men, women, boys, and girls through the roll out of new customary laws and community dialogues.
  • The United States supports women’s leadership by investing in women leaders in Rakhine State through USAID’s Community Strengthening Project, to promote lasting peace and inclusive economic development through collaborative solutions at the community level.

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USAID Asia project teaches students in Chiang Mai, Thailand about river ecosystems.
USAID Asia project teaches students in Chiang Mai, Thailand about river ecosystems.
Somsak Soonthornnawaphat, USAID Lower Emissions in Asia Forests Project