Cambodian Foreign Minister Prak Sokhonn will pay an official visit to the Republic of Korea today.
Sokhonn and South Korean Foreign Minister Chung Eui-yong are expected to jointly chair a virtual meeting with their counterparts from four other countries along the Mekong River—a major trade route between western China and Southeast Asia—including Laos, Myanmar, Vietnam and Thailand.
China’s notable absence from today’s talks signals that the parties are likely to focus on a series of controversial Chinese hydroelectric dam projects. Downstream countries have expressed concern for decades that the projects adversely affect the flow of the river, causing flooding and threatening fishing and farming.
Expect Eui-yong to propose the creation of a new Mekong River cooperation forum as an alternative to similar American and Chinese forums. Such an institution would signal South Korea’s continued intention to assert itself as a regional arbitrator in Southeast Asia as part of its “New Southern Policy,” which focuses on regional engagement as other countries like the US, China, and Australia compete for influence. While the US is likely to cautiously support its ally’s intention to settle the dispute, expect China to oppose the initiative and encourage a Sino-centric economic approach to placating criticism.
Nick Giurleo / Daily Brief