Mekong-Korea talks start

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Mekong-Korea talks start

The foreign ministers of Korea and Southeast Asia’s five Mekong River nations launched their first meeting yesterday aimed at boosting economic and development cooperation, as Asia’s fourth-largest economy seeks to strengthen its diplomacy with the resource-rich region.

Korean Foreign Minister Kim Sung-hwan opened the inaugural Mekong-ROK (Republic of Korea) Foreign Ministers’ Meeting at a Seoul hotel with his counterparts from Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Vietnam and Thailand. The two-hour talks focused on promoting economic and development cooperation, as well as deepening political ties, according to Seoul’s foreign ministry.

“The Mekong region is blessed with abundant natural resources and labor,” Kim said in his opening remarks. “The rapid economic development that this region has achieved in recent years shows how it can turn such growth potential into reality.”

The meeting comes as Korea has been seeking to tap more business opportunities in a region rich in lumber and mineral resources, and jointly explore development projects. The 4,800-kilometer (2,982-mile) Mekong River, which originates in China, runs through the five Southeast Asian nations.

The annual meeting was first proposed by Korean President Lee Myung-bak in October last year after a summit in Hanoi with leaders of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.

Korea has already pledged to double its Official Development Aid to Asean by 2015, a majority of which will be channeled into the Mekong region, while annual trade between the sides jumped from an average of $1.5 billion in the 1990s to $25 billion last year, according to the ministry.

The ministers are expected to discuss six priority areas, including infrastructure, human resources development, and information and communications technology, the ministry said.

In politics, the six nations will discuss anticrime cooperation, joint drills for disaster relief, the Mekong region’s support for Seoul’s hosting of the Nuclear Security Summit next year and North Korea’s denuclearization, it added.

The meeting will end with a comprehensive partnership agreement, nicknamed the “Han River Declaration” after the main waterway bisecting the Korean capital.

In the wake of the recent devastating floods in Cambodia, Vietnam and Thailand, Foreign Minister Kim extended his sympathies, pledging his country’s support “in every possible way.”

He is scheduled to hold bilateral talks with each of his counterparts on the sidelines of the meeting. The visiting ministers will also pay a courtesy call on President Lee in the afternoon.

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