GMS eyes better connectivity, China's bigger role
BANGKOK - Chinese Premier Li Keqiang's expected attendance at a Greater Mekong Subregion (GMS) summit in Thailand signals China's more active role in efforts to bolster regional economy and connectivity and to expand the scope of cooperation.
Also on Li's agenda is the signing of a memorandum of understanding (MoU) on China-Thailand railway cooperation, a step in infrastructure development beneficial not only to the two countries, but also far beyond.
Li is scheduled to arrive in Bangkok on Friday to attend the fifth summit of the GMS Economic Cooperation, and discuss with leaders of other countries about inclusive and sustainable development in the region and the deepening of partnership.
"China has always been an active participant in GMS initiatives. In the future, we expect it to grow into a responsible leader in the mechanism," said Prof. Tang Zhimin, director of China ASEAN Studies of the Bangkok-based Panyapiwat Institute of Management.
The GMS Economic Cooperation Program was started in 1992 by the six countries along the the Mekong River -- Cambodia, China, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand and Vietnam, with cooperation spanning 10 fields from transportation, energy, agriculture, tourism to trade facilitation.
Of all the fields of cooperation, infrastructure has seen the greatest achievements over the past two decades, said Pornchai Trakulwaranont, vice rector for administration of Thailand's renowned Thammsat University.
For instance, the East-West corridor has almost been developed to the full scale, involving transportation and other activities that have proved to be economically beneficial, Pornchai said.
Profitable as they are, GMS projects like East-West and North-South economic corridors have not yet fully met the needs of this subregion, Tang said. "Infrastructure development cries for more funds, which is one of the major challenges."
China's initiatives, including the building of the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road, the Silk Road Economic Belt and the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB), will help address such challenges and promote regional connectivity, said Zhang Yunling, director of the Academic Division of International Studies of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.
The AIIB is designed to serve as a more secure source of financial support for infrastructure development in the region, as well as a platform that features more negotiations between governments and joint decision-making, Pornchai said.
Countries participating in the upcoming summit will hopefully have follow-up discussions about the AIIB, he said.
Meanwhile, other issues like security, political development and human trafficking are also expected to receive their fair share of attention from participants in the summit.