The Diplomat –
Last week, as expected, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo rolled out a series of ongoing measures designed to strengthen U.S. involvement in the Mekong subregion – a shorthand for the area in mainland Southeast Asia through which the Mekong River, one of the world’s longest and largest rivers, runs. While these steps do reinforce the notion that Washington is attempting to expand its role in the Mekong in 2019, realizing that goal will also require significant inroads in recognition of the challenges confronting U.S. policymakers and the realities in the subregion.
As I have noted before in these pages, the importance of the Mekong has long been recognized in U.S. policy, both in terms of the importance of the river to the countries themselves; its role as a point of either connectivity or conflict between mainland Southeast Asian countries and major powers engaged there, including the United States; and, in recent years, China’s growing influence in Southeast Asia. The Mekong is central to the Trump administration’s Free and Open Indo-Pacific (FOIP) strategy today: as I have argued previously, it is where the principles of freedom and openness are arguably under the greatest challenge, and it also best typifies the interconnection between the three FOIP pillars of security, economics, and governance, which U.S. officials have outlined because of the diverse, cross-border challenges that exist.