Experience in sustainable development, close economic ties and proximity to the Greater Mekong subregion, will help China play an increasingly important role in its development, officials and analysts predicted on the eve of a key meeting to be attended by Premier Li Keqiang.
The Greater Mekong Subregion (GMS) Economic Cooperation summit on Dec 19 and 20 in Bangkok, with a focus on “Inclusive and Sustainable Development”, is set to endorse a number of initiatives, including a Regional Investment Framework (2013-2022) and the Implementation Plan (2014- 2018).
The Foreign Ministry says that the summit will identify 92 priority investment projects. A regional rail alliance and an assessment report on regional transportation strategy from 2006 to 2015 will also be discussed.
“China expects to reach a consensus with other members on development agendas,” said Wang Chao, vice-foreign minister.
Li Hong, the Chinese permanent representative to the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP), said that in the last 30 years China has gained considerable experience in development and this can be passed on.
“Meanwhile, as the second-largest economy in the world, the government also knows about the importance of sustainable development,” Li said.
Founded in 1992, the GMS has overseen a number of investment programs allowing it to be not only a conduit for regional cooperation, but also a good communication channel for policymakers, he added.
In 2013, trade volume between China and its fellow GMS members reached $153.4 billion, and direct investment from China to the five countries rose to $2.3 billion, the Ministry of Commerce said.
“The other five members are neighboring countries, and are able to benefit the most from China’s development,” Li said, adding that as all five other countries are members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), China can use the GMS to help upgrade its relationship with the bloc.
“More than providing capital and technology for infrastructure, China, as the most influential power in the GMS, can also be a leader of policy connectivness among the countries,” Li said. The priority is to improve physical connectivity, but after the construction of roads and railways, trade zones and special economic development regions could blossom, he added.
Zhou Yongsheng, a foreign policy expert at the China Foreign Affairs University, pointed out that the gap between development challenges and regional integration. However, cooperating with China through organizations like the GMS will help them realize a more balanced development.
Despite the opportunities presented by GMS, the organization also faces challenges.
“There is a lack of mutual political trust among GMS countries,” said Li from ESCAP. “Other members may have concerns about China’s development and growth, and the disputes in the South China Sea are also a major issue challenging regional stability.”
However, these issues are outweighed by the region’s huge potential for development。