This week, representatives from the defense committees of the legislatures of Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam met for another iteration of a security meeting. The engagement highlighted ongoing efforts by the three countries to advance collaboration in the defense domain in spite of the significant challenges that remain in doing so.
As I have noted before in these pages, the mainland Southeast Asian nations through which the Mekong River – one of the world’s largest, longest rivers – flows have been working on ways to manage shared opportunities and challenges as well as lingering differences between them over the years through a range of cooperative mechanisms that extend from the high levels of government down to their localities.
One configuration within that is trilateral cooperation between Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam, which has at times been collectively termed Cambodia-Laos-Vietnam (CLV) triangular cooperation. Though CLV collaboration initially focused on economic areas, including the development of a CLV Growth Triangle, there have also been efforts to build out other areas as well, including in the security domain.
This week, the defense aspect of this trilateral collaboration was in the headlines with the holding of a security meeting between the legislatures of both sides. The three countries held the fourth meeting of the defense and security committees of their National Assemblies in Phnom Penh on August 27. The previous such meeting was held in Vietnam back in 2016.
During the meeting, representatives from the three countries held discussions and also delivered remarks focused on advancing collaboration between them. Per media reports on the deliberations, during the meeting, both sides reviewed the state of current cooperation, including the state of implementation of previous agreements, and also shared their experiences in ensuring security in their own countries as well as with neighboring states.
Apart from security issues, they also discussed wider CLV collaboration in other areas, whether it be initiatives such as the CLV Growth Triangle or particular industries such as agriculture, tourism, and education. Indeed, in a testament to the breadth of ongoing CLV cooperation, the holding of this CLV security meeting came amid other meetings within that configuration during the same week, including one involving tourism officials in Laos’ Champasak province where they discussed a draft plan for tourism development.
Unsurprisingly, not much in the way of specifics was publicly disclosed about the private deliberations between the three countries, including details on the joint statement of the meeting that they signed. And, to be sure, the focus on the positive aspects of trilateral cooperation in official or state-linked accounts can obscure the significant challenges that remain for them, with a case in point being border management issues that were in the headlines even as these deliberations were going on. Nonetheless, how the development of aspects of CLV collaboration play out in the coming months and years will continue to be interesting to watch amid other subregional trends and enduring challenges.