Remarks by Ambassador William A. Heidt at Lower Mekong Initiative Regional Working Group

(as delivered)
Sokha Hotel, Phnom Penh
October 19, 2016

Your Excellency Sok Siphana; delegates from the Royal Government of Cambodia; delegates from Laos, Myanmar, Thailand, and Vietnam; members of the U.S. delegation; distinguished guests; ladies and gentlemen.

For those of you who have traveled from near and far, I would like to welcome you to Phnom Penh and to this ball room, which is of course located just a few meters from the Mekong River itself.

Before I get started, I would like to express my deepest condolences to the delegation of Thailand and all the Thai people on the passing of your King, His Majesty Bhumibol Adulyadej. His Majesty’s deep love and compassion for his people and his country will be remembered for generations to come.

We are gathered at this forum today to discuss cooperation on the most important cross-border issues in this region under the six pillars of Lower Mekong Initiatives, or LMI. The LMI was launched in 2009 to help countries in the Lower Mekong region tackle a number of complex development challenges via a multilateral approach.

The United States’ commitment to the LMI program since then is a key part of the U.S. rebalance to Asia and our support for a strong and integrated ASEAN. LMI programs are designed to complement the ASEAN Economic Community.

For example, through the “Connect Mekong” platform, we support physical infrastructure, institutional, and people-to-people connections to narrow the development gap among ASEAN countries. Under our third-country training program, the U.S. and Singapore have trained over 800 ASEAN leaders in disaster resilience, sustainable development, and connectivity.

By bringing together both senior and working level officials at LMI programs throughout the year, we hope to foster strong working relationships and greater cooperation on trans-boundary issues and the responsible development of the Mekong River.

Under the Environment and Water pillar, we have designed programs such as the Smart Infrastructure for the Mekong Program to support sound water resource management through dialogue and coordinated policy development.

Our overarching goal is very simple. Through both bilateral and multilateral cooperation between the United States and LMI countries, we hope to build capacity to support sustainable development. For example under the education pillar we support more than 500 students and scholar exchanges each year.

One of those initiatives, the Professional Communication Skills for Leaders program, helps mid and upper-level government officials develop the English skills needed to actively contribute in regional meetings and dialogues.

I’d like to highlight one example from Cambodia that shows how the LMI can make a real difference. The WECREATE project in Cambodia – a center which offers training, resources, and mentoring for women entrepreneurs – will achieve a milestone this afternoon.

After a year of successful programming, including supporting multiple cohorts of young entrepreneurs, we will hand over management of this center to Paz Y Desarrollo, an NGO dedicated to supporting women’s empowerment.

This handover will mark the WECREATE Center’s transition to self-sustainability. It also symbolizes how our support through LMI can help create the foundations and connections to help Lower Mekong countries take charge of your own development goals, especially in building up your human resource capacity.

We are very gratified that through our cooperation in the LMI, we are helping create a stronger, more sustainable, and better trained Mekong region. The United States will continue to partner with each of your countries in this important endeavor.

Again, thank you all for being here today. I wish you a very fruitful discussion and look forward to hearing about the outcomes of the meetings today and tomorrow.

Thank you very much.