The strategically vital Mekong subregion has been gaining salience in Beijing’s strategic calculations as China faces growing pushback from the US and other countries. The global pandemic appears to be consolidating a few trends in China’s ties with the Mekong nations. In this emerging scenario, it is likely that China will keep its focus on the Mekong subregion in the post-COVID-19 period.
Cooperative partnerships with some countries have been further deepening, while China’s “mask diplomacy” has raised concern among citizens who want their governments to adopt a more cautious approach and there have been new factors that have been added to existing difficult relationships often viewed through the confrontational lens.
Apart from China-ASEAN cooperation in engaging with the Mekong subregion, Beijing has been using the Lancang-Mekong Cooperation (LMC)–––a subregional cooperation mechanism jointly established by Cambodia, China, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand, and Vietnam–––in engaging with the subregion in the fight against the global pandemic.
In February, Chinese State Councillor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi visited Vientiane, Laos, to participate in the fifth LMC foreign ministers’ meeting where he called for “concerted efforts” to fight against the COVID-19 epidemic.