With much of the media focusing on U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s visit to Indonesia to meet with ASEAN, India quietly pushed ahead with its strategy of strengthening its ties to Southeast Asia by hosting a Mekong-Ganga Cooperation (MGC) Ministerial meeting for the first time. The MGC initiative gives India an excellent opportunity to project its soft power vis-à-vis China with the other five MGC countries — Cambodia, Laos, Burma, Vietnam and Thailand.
To date, India has been unable to take full advantage of this 12-year-old initiative as rudimentary problems pertaining to a lack of connectivity by rail, road, and air have plagued the six countries. However, diplomatic sources say that Indian leaders are becoming more proactive towards the MGC grouping, and as the hosts of this meeting will try to push the envelope to increase New Delhi’s presence in China’s backyard.
Foreign ministers from the five countries and India will converge in New Delhi for the two-day 6th Mekong-Ganga Cooperation meeting starting on Monday September 3 and concluding the following day. The first day will be comprised of senior officials from all the countries holding meetings ahead of Tuesday, when the six Foreign Ministers will meet.
The MGC initiative focuses on four areas of cooperation — tourism, culture, education, and transportation linkages. The MGC was launched on November 10, 2000 in Vientiane, Laos setting out a vision for cooperation amongst India and the five Mekong region countries. Five MGC Ministerial Meetings have been held so far, taking place in 2000, 2001, 2003, and 2007, the latter of which saw two meetings held both of which took place in the Philippines. So far, the meetings have focused on enhancing tourism and cultural exchanges through the development of human resources, transportation and communication.
Although this is the first time an MGC Ministerial Meeting is being held in India, New Delhi previously chaired the 5th MGC Ministerial Meeting in 2007. This time around, External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna and his MGC counterparts are looking to build upon their past achievements and set a course for an invigorated partnership within this nascent yet important institution.