October 26, 2020
Phnom Penh, Cambodia
Thank you, Ambassador Sothirak and thank you to the Cambodian Institute for Cooperation and Peace (CICP) for the invitation to come and speak to you today. I would like to acknowledge the panelists and participants of this conference, some here in Phnom Penh and others joining virtually from Australia, Cambodia, Laos, Singapore, Thailand, the United States, and Vietnam.
I’m glad to see representatives from government and regional institutions as well as leading members of civil society from NGOs, academic institutions, and think-tanks. I would especially like to congratulate the CICP for working with us to host this forum.
It is now more important than ever to examine the future of the Mekong River and the diverse challenges confronting the sub-region. I have been up and down the Mekong over the past year, my first year as Ambassador here in Cambodia, and I will sail another portion of it next month. The Mekong is clearly under siege: upstream dams, sand dredging, pollution, unsustainable development practices, and climate change are all negatively impacting this great river.
The Mekong nonetheless remains a vital, irreplaceable source for livelihoods, nutrition, fisheries, transportation, irrigation, and energy. In Cambodia, the Mekong also feeds the Tonle Sap river and lake upon which millions depend for their lives and livelihoods. This conference will examine these challenges — and hopefully help regional stakeholders and partners, including the USG, identify further sustainable solutions.
Throughout 2020, the U.S. Embassy is marking its 70th anniversary of the establishment of U.S.-Cambodia diplomatic relations by celebrating monthly themes that focus on areas collaboration and partnership with the Cambodian government and people. These themes highlight the full range of our relationship and cooperation.
November is the Embassy’s “ASEAN and Regional Cooperation” month and follows the East Asia Summit and US-ASEAN Summits held in September. The Embassy will build off these important high-level meetings in a series of events over the next month that will highlight areas of U.S.-Cambodia partnership in the context of the broader region. This conference is our first event in the series of regional cooperation. November is also the beginning of our engagement with Cambodian stakeholders in preparation for the 2022 chairmanship of ASEAN.
On September 11, the United States and Mekong partner countries launched the Mekong-U.S. Partnership (MUSP), expanding United States Government support to Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand, and Vietnam — our five partner countries in the Mekong region. This Partnership builds on success of the U.S.-sponsored Lower Mekong Initiative, which saw a U.S. commitment of $3.5 billion to the region from 2009-2019. Like the Lower Mekong Initiative, our expanded partnership will focus on the environment, health, education, infrastructure, and regional security.
Since September, the U.S. has already committed $153 million in new funds to the MUSP. The Partnership will expand to include areas of cooperation in non-traditional security. To this end, for instance, the United States has committed $52 million to support COVID-19 economic recovery. Though Cambodia has thankfully been spared some of the higher COVID-19 infection rates seen elsewhere, we know it has not been able to escape the economic impact wrought by the disease. Our expanded support under the MUSP aims to assist in Cambodia’s — and the region’s — economic recovery.
I want to stress that the Mekong-U.S. Partnership respects domestic laws and regulations of participating countries. Similarly, it seeks to promote complementarity with other likeminded Mekong development partners and cooperation mechanisms. We understand that we are all equal partners in this initiative and in confronting the challenges facing the Mekong River.
As put forward in the joint statement at the launch, the Mekong-U.S. Partnership is guided by the values enshrined in the ASEAN Outlook on the Indo-Pacific, the U.S. Indo-Pacific vision, the Mekong River Commission, and ASEAN itself, including: equality, good governance, openness, transparency, economic growth, and respect for sovereignty.
I’m pleased that today’s panels will focus on important aspects of the Mekong-U.S. Partnership. I hope you will explore how upholding these values can address challenges confronting the subregion. I am proud that the U.S. Department of State and the Embassy are supporting this conference. I firmly believe that open discussion and transparency are essential for solving the challenges facing the countries of the Lower Mekong.
I hope the ideas discussed at this conference will influence and inspire policy makers. Thanks again to CICP for holding this event, and to all of you for taking part.