A significant regional initiative in the Southeast Asian region, regrettably not given the desired attention in India, is the 7th Summit of Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar and Vietnam (CLMV 7) and the 6th Summit of Ayeyawady- Chao Phraya – Mekong Economic Cooperation Strategy (ACMECS 6), both of which Myanmar is going to host at its capital city of Nay Pyi Taw on 22-23 June 2015. CLMV Summit’s aim has been to have more cooperation in trade and economic investment, human resource development, agriculture and industry, mineral, hydropower, oil and natural gas, communication and transportation sector development. Myanmar also hosted the 1st Summit of ACMECS in Bagan in November 2003 and the future plans of ACMECS and Bagan Declaration were released at that time. Like the ASEAN summit which Myanmar also hosted in 2014, the CLMV and ACMECS Summits reflect the good image of the country, and the central committee and sub-committees are striving for their success and prosperity.
Vietnam has remained as an important cog in the regional economic integration strategy and played an important role in Summits preparation and their subsequent progresses over the years. In particular, its role in both CLMV and ACMECS summits and the incremental progression is noteworthy. This time, Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung will lead the Vietnamese delegation for the two summit meetings at the invitation of Myanmar President Thein Sein. CLMV Summit is held biannually and the two summits have combined since 2008 in Vietnam. The last two Summits were held in Vientiane, Laos, in March 2013.
In preparation of the two Summits, senior economic officials of the four CLMV countries held a conference in Hanoi on 7 March to discuss initiatives and solutions to bridge the development gap between the four countries and other ASEAN members. This conference took place within the framework of the 9th ASEAN Economic Ministers’ Meeting. As the ASEAN members are poised to announce the formation of the ASEAN Economic Community by the end of 2015, reducing the development gap is a constant challenge for the CLMV four nations. Several projects have already been carried out by Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar and Vietnam and these projects are implemented within the framework of the Initiative for ASEAN Economic Integration (IAI) and supported by the remaining six ASEAN members and some developed countries such as Japan, China, the EU and the US.
CLMV cooperation is being pursued on the principle of equality and mutual benefit to promote internal strengths. Vietnam is committed to jointly find ways with its CLMV partners to strengthen bilateral and multilateral cooperation to a higher level, by focusing on agriculture, linkage of physical infrastructure, trade, investment promotion and tourism. Support from the remaining six ASEAN members and international assistance are useful to intensify scientific and technological application and investment attraction. This point was stressed by Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyan Tan Dung during the 5th CLMV Summit that took place in Laos, on 16 November 2010. It is noteworthy that the four CLMV countries have leapfrogged through their development goals remarkably. Vietnam has also established the CLMV Scholarship Fund to help boost education and research among the member countries.
The focus areas are to developing infrastructure, transport, technology and communication, human resources, poverty reduction and tourism promotion in CLMV countries. More than 200 projects are being carried out to meet the target deadline of 2015- end when the ASEAN Economic Community formation is to be announced.
Vietnam’s role and Areas for Cooperation
In all the CLMV initiatives, Vietnam’s role has been commendable. Besides other areas for deepening cooperation, Vietnam has identified tourism as an area that required special focus as people-to-people contacts are indispensable for human development. Prior to the Summit meetings at Nay Pyi Taw, travel industry stakeholders gathered in Da Nang, Vietnam, to discuss the promotion of sustainable tourism in the Greater Mekong Sub-region (GMS). The Asian Development Bank (ADB) defines the GMS as six countries – Cambodia, the People’s Republic of China, Lao People’s Democratic Republic, Myanmar, Thailand and Vietnam – which share the Mekong River. Collectively, the area is the fastest-growing tourist destination in the Asia-Pacific region and Vietnam realizes that tourism industry can unfold tremendous growth prospect not only in economic terms but also at showcasing each country’s soft power.
The annual event of stakeholders’ meeting representing the tourism industry, civil society, academia, the media and other development organisation such as the ADB has been attracting a lot of attention in the GMS countries. Though tourism is flourishing in the GMS, the growth in the industry ought to bring benefits to local communities and protect the environment.
According to the ADB, the GMS attracted 52 million international tourist arrivals in 2013, an increase of 17 per cent from the previous year. Indeed, arrivals have been growing at an annual rate of 12 per cent since 2002. Among the countries in the sub-region, Myanmar is the fastest growing destination. After the restoration of democracy, tourist traffic in Myanmar reached 5 million in 2014, an increase by 2 million over the previous year.
There are risks with this growth, however, that need to be plugged. For example, as the number of globe-trotters surge, there is a need to highlight the importance of practices that enhance environmental, social and economic benefits to tourism. Therefore, the GMS countries need to develop a ‘white paper’ for tourism ministries and private tourism operators, outlining a path for the industry’s future.
For Vietnam, the two Summits at Nay Pyi Taw have added importance as the year 2015 marks the 40th anniversary of diplomatic ties between the two countries, established on 28 May 1975. During these 40 years, bilateral ties have developed in a host of areas, including politics, economy, trade and culture. The regional cooperative mechanisms in operation shall help develop this multifaceted cooperation between the two nations in the future. The establishment of the Vietnam-Myanmar Friendship Association has been also a catalyst in bringing the peoples of the two countries closer.
Vietnam seems to have done good homework prior to the two summits. For example, Vietnamese Vice President Nguyen Thi Doan visited Myanmar in March 2015 to intensify bilateral cooperation during celebrations for the 40th anniversary of diplomatic ties. During this time, she clarified that Vietnam is keen to have a stable and long-term friendship as well as all-round engagement with Myanmar, especially within the ASEAN framework. During talks with her counterpart, Nyan Tun, the Vietnamese Vice President sought Myanmar government’s support for Vietnamese firms active in the 12 priority fields mentioned in the Vietnam-Myanmar joint statement signed in 2010, as well as accelerating the licensing of Vietnamese projects in Myanmar. What is noteworthy was that bilateral trade doubled in two years and reached $475 million in 2014. This prompted both sides to talk about initiatives to boost it further. It was agreed that this can be enhanced by joint efforts through high-level visits using bilateral co-operation mechanisms and boosting economic and trade-investment activities. Both countries aim to take bilateral trade figure to reach $500 million in 2015 if collaboration in agro-forestry and fisheries, finance banking, telecommunications, transport, oil and gas, and tourism are expanded as envisaged.
There are prospects for the Bank for the Investment and Development of Vietnam to open a branch in Myanmar soon, the Vietnam National Oil and Gas Group to expand oil and gas exploration, and the military-run telecom provider Viettel to set up a joint venture with Yantanarporn Teleport of Myanmar. Other areas where both can cooperate are rubber and food production and exports, including rice, seafood, vegetables and fruit. Myanmar shall be happy to receive Vietnamese investment in three newly-established exclusive economic zones. Given political understanding, both sides can work closely at regional and global forums, especially in sub-regional mechanisms such as the Ayeyawady-Chao Phraya-Mekong Economic Co-operation, the Cambodia-Laos-Myanmar-Vietnam Ministerial Summit, and the East-West Economic Corridor. A closer Vietnam-Myanmar bonhomie can be a catalyst to secure ASEAN solidarity, uphold the association’s central role in the evolving regional structure, maintain peace and stability in the region, especially South China Sea, and create the ASEAN Economic Community by the end of 2015.
Besides good neighbourhood policy that Vietnam maintains, especially with Laos and Cambodia, as well as a responsible member of the ASEAN regional grouping and active participant in regional forums, Vietnam seeks common grounds with its partners on regional issues for peace and stability in the region.
Future Direction for CLMV and ACMECS
With Vietnam’s active role, combined with the efforts of other CLMV and ACMECS member countries, the regular summit meetings shall help leverage and create conditions for the eventual announcement of the ASEAN Economic Community at the end of 2015. When that materialises, it shall not only unfold huge opportunities for further cooperation, development and prosperity amongst ASEAN members, but also hone the region’s economic footprint in the world’s economic growth. Such a course shall also facilitate direction for regional peace, stability and security as well as for the world. The destiny of Asia would be thus be re-written by this single path-breaking institution-building effort.
In recent times, China’s belligerence on territorial issues, particularly on South China Sea, makes the rest of Asia unease. There is a sense of discomfort that China’s adventurism in the area is sending to the rest of Asia. Though there are nearly a dozen of countries having contending claims on some parts or other of the South China Sea, China claims the whole of the South China Sea as its own by openly flouting global norms and United Nations Laws of the Seas. Some recent Chinese measures to build islands in the South China Sea are also troubling as well as questionable. China has been warning many countries, including the US and India, to keep off the zone that it claims as its own. While the Philippines have taken up its case to the international court of justice, Vietnam need call upon friends in the US, India, Japan Australia and others who stand for universal values and global rules. These countries would not hesitate to intervene if the region’s peace is affected by the unilateral action of a particular country at the expense of rest of Asia.
Besides having support of many countries friendly to it, it is desirable that Vietnam uses the CLMV and ACMECS summits forum and joins the rest of ASEAN regional grouping members to build consensus that could contribute to the building of internal solidarity and further the region’s economic prosperity. Such a policy measure could also help deter another country to be over-ambitious and check single-country domination over the rest of Asia. Building up of regional solidarity needs to remain at the core of nation-building and Vietnam’s commitment seems to be just that like a head.
It’s expected that Prime Minister Dung will have an important speech that putting forth directions and roadmaps to make cooperation within the framework of CLMV and ACMECS more active and effective, thereby building strategic trust, enhancing cooperation and harmonizing national interests with common interests and making practical contributions to peace, cooperation and development in the region. It could help raise awareness in the countries of the region for what is best for them. After all, regional prosperity is contingent upon mutual respect and respect for international rules of law.
Though India is always on the same page with Vietnam on this common cause, as mentioned in the beginning, it is regrettably that Indian media does not give the attention that these two important summits deserve.
India’s possible role in CLMV and ACMECS Co-operation
India’s ONGC is in engaged in oil exploration activities on the invitation of Vietnam in the South China Seas in the areas claimed by Vietnam. China has objected to this but India remains undeterred. India has kept its option open to let its Navy to intervene to protect its national interests if needed. China ought to be careful not to escalate the tensions that are its own making for purely selfish interests. India would not be found wanting to defend the global commons if threatened by outside forces. On this India and Vietnam are on the same page and Vietnam can count on India’s principled stand on this.
From its own side, India would be too keen to pursue bilateral pacts with the four CLMV countries in order to enhance the economic footprints in terms of trade and investments in these countries. Though India has a smooth relationship with the ASEAN as a bloc, Indian business environment can be better served through one-to-one agreements than through a combined approach, though both approaches can complement each other. For the same reason, India has separate pacts with Singapore and Malaysia despite its own separate ASEAN pact. In view of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Act East policy and the reaching out to the Myanmar authorities to tackle the terrorist activities in the northeast region of India, land connectivity to the ASEAN region through the only gateway in Myanmar offers huge opportunity. Both CLMV and ACMECS can be conduits to such a policy approach for India.
Observers and security analysts specialising on the region would hope and expect that Vietnam would sustain its pro-active foreign policy at the two forthcoming CLMV and ACMECS summits at Nay Pyi Taw. Indeed, CLMV and ACMECS cooperation, if continued to be pursued on the principle of equality, it would contribute to mutual benefits and promote building of internal strengths and solidarity. Such a policy choice also shall help opening up of opportunities for more development cooperation, bridge gaps in developmental challenges and precipitate movement towards the eventual announcement of the formation of the ASEAN Economic Community by the end of 2015 – upholding thus the association’s central role in the evolving regional structure, maintain peace and stability in the region, and to cope with the emerging challenges with a common voice.