From the GMS to the LMC: international institutional competition on the Indochina Peninsula

LUO Yifu1

(1.School of International Studies, Renmin University of China.)

【Abstract】In order to promote regional economic development, there are a large number of international economic cooperation mechanisms in the Indochina Peninsula once, but after fierce institutional competitions, only a few institutional arrangements including the Greater Mekong Subregion Economic Cooperation (GMS) and the Lancang-Mekong Cooperation (LMC) can finally play important roles in the economic and social development and integration of the region. The common ground of the two institutions in terms of membership, institutional function and operational mode determines the objective competitive relationship between the two. They differ in the leading forces of the institution and their investment into the institutions, institutionalization level, the fundamental goal of institutional construction and institutional effectiveness. To a certain extent, the competition state quo between the institutions is that the development of the GMS is stagnant and even regressed while the influence of the LMC expands rapidly. Based on the analytical framework of realistic institutionalism, the relative changes in power structure between Japan and China, the leading countries of the GMS and the LMC respectively, in the Indochina Peninsula, partly explain the causes of the current competition pattern of the two mechanisms. This paper further incorporates the choice of participating countries in the institutions into the analytical framework, emphasizing that whether the public needs of the five countries in the Indochina Peninsula are met under the two major mechanisms also has a certain impact on the competitive relationship between the two mechanisms. In terms of the strategic positioning of China and Japan and the attitude of the five countries in the Indochina Peninsula, competition between the GMS and the LMC will continue, but this does not mean that inter-institutional cooperation cannot be achieved. In this regard, China should pay close attention to catering to the needs of the countries in the Indochina Peninsula on the basis of safeguarding its own interests to ensure attractiveness and competitiveness of the LMC, and moreover, it can promote exchange of the two mechanisms, seek the entry point of cooperation, and achieve benign competition and institutional compatibility between the GMS and the LMC.

【Keywords】 Greater Mekong Subregion (GMS) Economic Cooperation; Lancang-Mekong Cooperation (LMC); international institutional competition; realistic institutionalism; public need; Sino-Japanese relations;

【DOI】

【Funds】 National Social Science Fund of China (17VDL001)

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    [2]. (2) The core proposition of the theory lies in that an international institution both provides universal public services to member states of the institution and can be privatized as a specific power tool by the leading country of the institution. The result of international institutional competition is determined by the power status of the institutional leading countries, the capacity of the international institution to provide public services, and the rationality of the institutional structure. See Li, W. Struggle for Institutions: Sino-U.S. Relations in the Era of Strategic Competition (制度之战:战略竞争时代的中美关系). Beijing: Social Sciences Academic Press (China), 86 (2017). [^Back]

    [3]. (3) In the expression of the realistic institutionalism theory, the author Li Wei uses the term “power” more, comprising the three aspects of political power status, political coercive ability and conceptual influence ability, but based on that the GMS and the LMC are platforms by the leading countries providing funds to assist economic and social development of their member states, the author believes that the strengths of the two countries (especially economic strength) are obviously more important in the process of institutional construction than other types of strengths. Therefore, this article prefers to use the term “strength” and in essence “strength” is also a part of “power.” [^Back]

    [4]. (4) In the middle and late 19th century to the first half of the 20th century, the Indochina Peninsula countries except Thailand were colonized by Western powers for more than half a century. Among them, Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos were ruled by France, while Myanmar was under the control of the British Empire. Later, the four countries were successively invaded and occupied by Japan. After the end of the Second World War, the region became one of the main battlefields of the Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union. The two countries directly intervened in the domestic politics and economic development of these countries. It was not until the 1990s that the Indochina Peninsula countries achieved independence and peace. Since the 1990s, Japan, the United States, China and India, and other middle powers such as the ROK and Australia have competed to successively enhance their influence in the Indochina Peninsula through development aid, economic ties and political oppression. Among them, “competition” between China and Japan is the most prominent. [^Back]

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    [63]. (63) “Small countries” here do not specifically refer to countries of small size, but other participating countries in an international institution relative to the leading country. In most cases, the dominant player in an international institution is usually the actor with a more prominent strength in a certain aspect, which is particularly prominent in the international institutions in the Indochina Peninsula. In this context, the dominant player becomes a “big country” in a particular international institution, and the participants are “small countries.” [^Back]

    [64]. (64) Although China is not a leading country in the GMS and it plays the role of a participating country, Japan has always hoped that the GMS will exclude China (mainly the two provinces Yunnan and Guangxi) and establish a cooperation mechanism that includes only the five countries in the Indochina Peninsula. Seen from this phenomenon, the target that Japan hopes to win support from through the GMS should be only the five countries in the Indochina Peninsula, excluding China. Therefore, this paper’s analysis of small countries in the GMS is limited to the five countries in the Indochina Peninsula. As for the analysis of Japan’s attitude toward China’s role in the GMS, see Keokam Kraisoraphong, “China, Japan, and the Great Mekong Basin: A Southeast Asian Perspective,” in Lam Peng Er, ed., China-Japan Relations in the 21st Century, Palgrave Macmillan, 2017, p. 195. [^Back]

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    [76]. (76) That is, with political security, economic and sustainable development, and social humanities as the three pillars of cooperation, and connectivity, capacity cooperation, cross-border economy, water resources, agriculture and poverty alleviation as priority directions. [^Back]

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    [79]. (79) For example, Laos Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs Thongloun Sisoulith mentioned at the First LMC Foreign Ministers’ Meeting that China’s initiative to establish a Lancang-Mekong cooperation mechanism was of great significance. He had high expectations for the mechanism. Vietnamese Deputy Prime Minister Pham Binh Minh also made it clear that the LMC was an important mechanism for equal participation of all countries in the subregion. Vietnam supported and was willing to actively participate in the LMC to contribute to the development of the subregion and the benefit of all peoples with China. For details, see http://news.cri.cn/gb/42071/2015/11/13/8251s5165258; http://www.zaobao.com/realtime/china/story20161225-706181 [^Back]

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    [81]. (81) For example, while formulating a plan for the construction of domestic railway infrastructure, upgrading the existing railway infrastructure, and implementing domestic railway connection, Thailand’s Prayuth government has implemented the key project of the LMC , the construction of the China-Thailand Railway, to connect with national infrastructure projects in the region. See Liu, Z. (ed.) Report on the Development of the Lancang-Mekong Cooperation (2017) (澜沧江—湄公河合作发展报告 (2017)). Beijing: Social Sciences Academic Press (China), 224 (2018). [^Back]

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This Article

ISSN:1003-3386

CN: 11-5370/D

Vol 35, No. 06, Pages 119-156

November 2018

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Article Outline

Abstract

  • 1 The status quo of international institutional construction in the Indochina Peninsula
  • 2 Japan’s “big country ambitions” and the rise of the GMS
  • 3 China’s “charm offensive” and the birth of the LMC
  • 4 Public needs of the five countries in the Indochina Peninsula and the evolution of the institutional competition
  • 5 Conclusion
  • Footnote