China and the five Mekong countries are close neighbors and natural cooperation partners connected by mountains and rivers. In 2021, China worked with the Mekong countries (Myanmar, Laos, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam) to promote cooperation and development amid the fight against COVID-19 and made positive contributions to the economic recovery of all countries and regional revitalization while navigating the pandemic and major changes unseen in a century.
The China Secretariat for Lancang-Mekong Cooperation (LMC) collaborated with China Report ASEAN of China International Communications Group and The Mekong River of Yunnan Daily Press Group to select 2021’s Top 10 News Stories on China’s Participation in LMC and the Mekong Sub-Regional Cooperation.
I. Head-of-state diplomacy sets the course for the next chapter of building a community with a shared future with neighboring countries
In 2021, President Xi Jinping maintained close communication with leaders of the Mekong countries through virtual meetings, phone calls, letters, and other means, drawing up a blueprint for cooperation.
On January 21, 2021, President Xi Jinping had a phone conversation with Lao President Thongloun Sisoulith at the latter’s invitation, during which they jointly announced the official launch of the Year of China-Laos Friendship. Xi had phone conversations with General Secretary of the Communist Party of Vietnam (CPV) Nguyen Phu Trong on February 8 and again on September 24 and also talked with Vietnamese President Nguyen Xuan Phuc by phone on May 24 to deepen the strategic mutual trust and consolidate the traditional friendship between China and Vietnam. On June 28, Xi sent a congratulatory message to President of the Cambodian People’s Party Hun Sen on the 70th anniversary of the Party’s founding. On December 3, Xi and Lao President Thongloun Sisoulith held a meeting and jointly witnessed the opening of the China-Laos Railway via video link.
II. Continuous high-level exchanges cement political mutual trust among the six Lancang-Mekong countries
On September 9, 2021, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang attended the Seventh Greater Mekong Sub-region (GMS) Summit via video link. Li stressed that the six countries need to strengthen political mutual trust, expand areas of cooperation, enhance the quality of cooperation, and jointly foster a more sustainable and inclusive sub-region. The meeting produced the Declaration on the Seventh GMS Summit and endorsed documents such as the GMS Strategic Framework 2030 (GMS-2030) and the GMS COVID-19 Response and Recovery Plan (2021-2023).
At the Sixth LMC Foreign Ministers’ Meeting in Chongqing on June 8, Chinese State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi emphasized in his speech that China would firmly follow President Xi Jinping’s diplomatic philosophy of amity, sincerity, mutual benefits, and inclusiveness when engaging with its neighbors, strive to build a Community of Shared Future of Peace and Prosperity among Lancang-Mekong Countries and usher in another “Golden Five Years” of cooperation. The meeting endorsed consensus-based documents such as the Joint Statement on Enhancing Sustainable Development Cooperation of the Lancang-Mekong Countries, the Initiative on Deepening Cooperation among Local Governments of Lancang-Mekong Countries, and the Joint Statement on Deepening Cooperation on Traditional Medicine Within the Framework of Lancang-Mekong Cooperation. In 2021, Wang Yi visited Myanmar, Vietnam, and Cambodia successively and held more than 20 multilateral and bilateral meetings with the leaders and foreign ministers of the Mekong countries.
III. Lancang-Mekong countries strengthen health cooperation while fighting together against the COVID-19 pandemic
In the fight against the pandemic in 2021, the six countries overcame a myriad of difficulties through concerted efforts, demonstrating true brotherhood and neighborly relations with concrete action. China provided the Mekong countries with free testing kits, masks, protective suits, and other medical supplies, hosted anti-pandemic experience sharing seminars, sent medical expert teams, and helped the Mekong countries build nucleic acid test laboratories. By the end of 2021, China had provided the five countries with a total of 190 million doses of vaccines through aid and commercial procurement.
During the Sixth LMC Foreign Ministers’ Meeting in June 2021, the foreign ministers released the Joint Statement on Deepening Cooperation on Traditional Medicine Within the Framework of Lancang-Mekong Cooperation, unanimously supporting traditional medicine of all countries to play a role in global pandemic prevention and control while promoting the development of public health in the sub-region. The six countries actively implemented relevant projects on traditional medicine to contribute to prevention and control of cardiovascular diseases, tropical diseases, and insect-borne infectious diseases in the sub-region. On December 17, 2021, the Post-pandemic Lancang-Mekong Traditional Medicine Cooperation Forum was held at Nanjing TCM University to explore the direction and path of cooperation in traditional medicine.
IV. China-Laos Railway opens, bolstering regional connectivity
On December 3, 2021, the China-Laos Railway officially opened with well wishes from both heads of state via video link. The launch of regular operation of international cargo trains between China and Laos coupled with cross-border highway cargo services between Chongqing and Vientiane will further improve sub-regional connectivity. China and Laos have made substantive progress in mutually beneficial and win-win cooperation in power transmission with the signing of a franchise agreement between the Electricite du Laos Transmission Company Limited (EDL-T, a joint venture between China Southern Power Grid and Lao state-run Electricite du Laos) and the Lao government.
The renovation and upgrading project on Cambodia’s No. 11 National Highway, contracted to Chinese companies, was completed and handed over to the Cambodian government. About 70 percent of construction of the Chinese-invested Phnom Penh-Sihanoukville Expressway has been completed. A memorandum of understanding (MoU) on a feasibility study for a Mandalay-Kyaukpyu railway project has been signed between China and Myanmar. Railway carriages are already reaching Myanmar from China. Vietnam’s first urban light rail, built by a company of China, has opened for service. The first phase of the China-Thailand Railway and construction of a new terminal at Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi Airport, contracted by Chinese companies, were both completed.
V. Economic and trade cooperation achieves growth amid pandemic, with production cooperation progressing steadily
In 2021, China’s trade with the Mekong countries reached US$398 billion, up 23 percent year on year. China and Cambodia completed ratification procedures on the Free Trade Agreement between the Government of the People’s Republic of China and the Government of the Kingdom of Cambodia and updated the Memorandum of Understanding on Promoting Cooperation in Production Capacity and Investment. China and Laos signed the Memorandum of Understanding on Establishing the Joint Committee for China-Laos Economic Corridor Cooperation and the Agreement on Confirming and Jointly Promoting the Third Round of Key Projects in Production Capacity and Investment Cooperation. The China-Laos Railway will facilitate the construction of the China-Laos Economic Corridor. The Central Bank of Myanmar announced that it would allow usage of Chinese and Myanmar currencies for direct border trade settlement in the China-Myanmar border area. The Wanding Port on the China-Myanmar border has officially resumed customs clearance of imports and exports. Expedited customs clearance has been launched for China-Vietnam freight trains to further improve the transport efficiency along the New International Land-Sea Trade Corridor.
VI. Lancang-Mekong cooperation among local governments gains momentum
Many Chinese provinces and cities are connected to the Mekong countries by rivers and mountains, which, alongside close cultural affinity, serves as a solid foundation for cooperation. The Sixth LMC Foreign Ministers’ Meeting adopted the first Initiative on Deepening Cooperation among Local Governments of Lancang-Mekong Countries, charting the course for friendly exchanges and mutually beneficial cooperation among local governments in the six countries.
In December 2021, the first Forum on Lancang-Mekong Local Government Cooperation was held in Beihai, south China’s Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region. Chinese State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi sent a congratulatory message, and representatives from local governments, organizations, and media from relevant provinces and cities of the six Lancang-Mekong countries as well as diplomatic envoys from the five Mekong countries to China, attended the forum. The event issued a chairman’s statement pledging to promote institutionalization of the forum, attract participation from more local governments in the six countries, and create a new platform for local government cooperation in the Lancang-Mekong region.
VII. Countries continue fruitful agricultural cooperation as trade volume hits record high
In 2021, trade volume of agricultural products between China and the five Mekong countries reached US$28 billion, up nearly 18.6 percent year-on-year. The first Lancang-Mekong Fruit Festival, held in Beijing, was dedicated to promoting regional investment and trade in fruits and deepening cooperation in the agricultural industry.
China’s Ministry of Agriculture took the lead in implementing the 13 “LMC Bumper Harvest” projects, carried out agricultural technology exchange and cooperation in various fields, provided training for more than 1,000 agricultural officials, technicians, and student farmers in the Mekong countries, established the Lancang-Mekong Rice-Fish Program Scholarship, and compiled and published the Lancang-Mekong Agricultural Cooperation Report.
The Chinese Academy of Thermal Sciences promoted rubber tree dead skin rehabilitation technology in Laos. The Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences planted three selected soybean varieties in a demonstration base in Myanmar, which has registered an average annual yield of more than 200 kilograms per mu (one mu is 667 square meters). The agricultural departments of China and Cambodia have reached a memorandum of understanding on promoting cooperation in the banana industry. The agricultural departments of China and Vietnam held the fourth Joint Activity for Stock Enhancement, Releasing and Maintenance in the Beibu Gulf at the Beilun River Estuary in Dongxing City, Guangxi, releasing about 56 million fish fry and post-larvae shrimp into waters of the Beibu Gulf.
VIII. Remarkable cooperation in water resources and environmental protection
The Sixth LMC Foreign Ministers’ Meeting in June 2021 adopted the Joint Statement on Enhancing Sustainable Development Cooperation of the Lancang-Mekong Countries, emphasizing the need for the six member countries to strengthen cooperation in water resources management and environmental protection.
On December 7, 2021, the 2nd Lancang-Mekong Water Resources Cooperation Forum commenced via video link. The Beijing Recommendations of the 2nd Lancang-Mekong Water Resources Cooperation Forum was unveiled at the closing ceremony. China vowed to ensure water resources supply for downstream countries, provide hydrological information on the Lancang River in a timely manner, and implement cooperation projects with Mekong countries such as the Lancang-Mekong Sweet Spring Action Plan and Demonstration of Integrated Management of Typical Small Basin in the Lancang-Mekong Countries, striving to work together with the Mekong countries to address the challenges of climate change and improve water resources management capacity.
To maintain ecological integrity in the region, the six countries accelerated implementation of the Lancang-Mekong Environmental Cooperation Strategy and the Green Lancang-Mekong Plan, strengthened cooperation and experience sharing on clean and renewable energy development, and worked together to promote green and low-carbon transformation. Projects such as “Lancang-Mekong Knowledge Hub for Low-Carbon, Green, and Sustainable Infrastructure” and “Improving Ecosystem Management for Sustainable Livelihoods” have been launched, while construction of a low-carbon demonstration zone in Sihanoukville, Cambodia, and the Vientiane Saysettha Development Zone low-carbon demonstration project in Laos, is progressing steadily.
IX. Cooperation on livelihood projects benefits millions of families
The China-funded Morodok Techo National Stadium was officially launched in Phnom Penh, becoming another landmark of friendship between China and Cambodia. The second phase of the China-aided rural water supply project in Cambodia was completed and began operation, effectively addressing a shortage of drinking water and the challenge of ensuring clean water for local rural people.
The China-aided lighting system in the Lao capital’s downtown area was completed and became a popular destination for local citizens.
In Myanmar, the National Stadium Maintenance and Renovation Project aided by the Chinese government was handed over to the Myanmar government, and the China-aided Industrial Training Centre (Mandalay) upgrading project was launched.
China and Vietnam held an online symposium on poverty alleviation experience to help the border provinces of the two countries achieve sustainable development.
China cooperated with Mekong countries on disaster management, held a seminar on promoting multi-hazard early warning technology in Mekong countries, and established cooperation with Laos and Cambodia on disaster prevention, mitigation, and emergency relief, aiming to promote new progress in cooperation on disaster management.
X. Impressive results in people-to-people and cultural exchanges
To mark the fifth anniversary of the founding of the Lancang-Mekong Cooperation (LMC) mechanism, Chinese State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi published a signed article in People’s Daily titled Lancang-Mekong Cooperation: After Five Fruitful Years, A New Journey Awaits—Marking the Fifth Anniversary of the Lancang-Mekong Cooperation. He also joined diplomatic envoys from the five Mekong countries at the reception celebrating the 5th anniversary of LMC and the LMC Week 2021 in Beijing.
Foreign ministers of the Mekong countries published signed articles and congratulatory letters to celebrate the remarkable achievements of the LMC mechanism and its contribution to regional economic and social development. The Mekong countries pledged to continue to work closely with China to promote mechanism building and deepen practical cooperation to better benefit the people. The central ministries and local governments of the six countries jointly held nearly 60 celebrations in various forms including conferences and forums, media stories, films and TV shows, rural revitalization campaigns, and youth innovation and entrepreneurship competitions.