Yunnan - The Mekong region is the latest corner of Southeast Asia to feel the power of the rising Chinese dragon. At the 2nd Greater Mekong Subregion (GMS) summit this week, China expressed its readiness to offer its businessmen incentives to invest in the economies in the region.
The GMS covers six countries connected by the 4,500km Lancan-Mekong River: China, Thailand, Myanmar, Laos, Vietnam and Cambodia.
A Chinese government spokesman quoted Prime Minister Wen Jiabao as telling some 300 business leaders at the summit that "developing technology and communications facilities, particularly in rural areas, could help reduce poverty in the sub-region".
According to The Straits Times, Mr Wen's sweetner of government-backed soft loans to aid Chinese business interests in the Mekong region is a small but significant move to bolster China’s growing economic and strategic reach in Southeast Asia.
However, Mr Wen also told his audience that the Mekong region could not afford to rely only on Chinese money for growth. He pointed out that despite China's impressive economic growth, "there are still tens of millions of poor people in the country, plus an uneven domestic regional development, serious resource constraints and mounting environmental pressure".
"There is still a very long way to go before China modernises itself," Mr Wen added.
In the Kunming Declaration issued at the end of the two-day summit on July 5, the six leaders agreed to complete the major transport links along the east-west corridor, stretching from the South China Sea in Vietnam to the Andaman Sea in Myanmar, by 2008 and the north-south corridor, a land link from Kunming, Yunnan's capital, to Bangkok, by 2010. China will fund the construction of the Kunming-Bangkok highway.
The leaders also identified tourism as a key job creator in the GMS and supported the marketing of the subregion as a single tourist destination.
* China airs concerns for Mekong environment (The Nation, July 6)
* Chinese reach out to Mekong neighbours (The Straits Times, July 5)