Can Mekong-Japan Summit 2019 Exempt GMS Countries from River Plastic Waste?
by Reni Juwitasari
Japan Program Analyst, ARCID, School of Social Innovation, Mae Fah Luang University
Aside from its biodiversity opulence and hydroelectricity potential benefits, Mekong River is regrettably acknowledged as one of the top ten most plastic polluted rivers in the world that collectively discharges for 95 percent of the plastic waste floating into the oceans (DW, 2017). The plastic waste invested in the Mekong River is mostly derived from upstream of Yangtze River in China, fluttered in the Mekong river way to other Mekong neighbor countries with the estimated number of 200 tons per day (Mainichi, 2018). Irrespective of the fact that China as the most plastic waste contributor in Mekong River, the river also gains more plastic wastes from the downstream of Mekong countries, mainly Cambodia that uses ten times more plastics for their household (Mekong Eye, 2018). As a result, those plastic wastes have made adverse benefit to other neighbor countries, especially for the tourism sector. For instance, Thai government had to close the most popular tourist beach, May Bay, for massively cleaning up plastic waste accumulation due to a whale dead body containing plastic bag in its internal organs found in that area (Barret, 2019). As a matter of fact that Mekong region do not have sufficient waste infrastructure and management as well as the public awareness, waste pollution in Mekong region, therefore, becomes a vital issue to be solved.
To minimize the hazardous impact of the environmental issue in Mekong countries, the 11th Mekong – Japan Cooperation (MJC) summit in Bangkok, Kingdom of Thailand which held on 4 November 2019 and attended by the five Mekong leaders and Prime Minister of Japan led to a serious endeavor. The summit discussed on “A Decade toward Green Mekong” which expectedly both leaders from Mekong region and Japan are able to conduct policy on bolstering the wealth of natural resources and abundant labor, achieved remarkable economic growth and development continuity in relation to SGDs agenda toward 2030. The result of the summit has come to a strong point on enlargement of several environmental aspects, such as sustainable forest development, water management, disaster prevention and response to disaster, improvement of urban environment, conservation of biodiversity as well as controlling greenhouse and gas emissions as it becomes the long term of goal of this MJC under Tokyo Strategy platform (MOFA, 2019). In fact, the issue of green Mekong has been put in the priority of Japanese Foreign policies toward Mekong region since the first summit of MJC in 2009. Realizing the action of this issue, a year later after the first MJC, Japan has initiated to establish a forum, called “Green Mekong Forum” associated with Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) and National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) which alleged every two year. In the first meeting, the principle of the Green Mekong Forum mentioned had to concern on heightening awareness on environmental problems and promoting cooperation on sustainable development by providing dialogue and workshop (Clayton, 2018). Hitherto, the forum has been held for six times and hosted by Thailand at all times in which the latest issues are highlighted on marine plastic debris management, waste management and litter in the Mekong River written in the Mekong – Japan Initiative for SDGs 2030 blue print.
From the speech of the Japanese Prime Minister, Shinzo Abe in the 11th MJC summit, he revealed that to overcome the plastic waste pollution in Mekong countries, the connectivity among people and the spirit of “us” are vital keys to preserve the connection between human and nature for the future generations as well as to strengthen the power of togetherness in solving the problem (MOFA, 2019). Regard to this, Japanese government, finally, has aligned with the United Nation’s Environment to tackle plastic waste pollution in both Mekong River and the ocean. Japan has allocated budget for 123 million Yen or 1.1 million USD to work on eradicating plastic pollution project, called “Promotion of Countermeasure against Marine Plastic Litter in Southeast Asia and India” (Rohit, 2019). Following that, Japan has enhanced the cooperation with Mekong River Commission (MRC) to conduct human resource development and training in marine litter observation as well as establish a knowledge center as a hub of information of marine plastic litter aiming to raise the awareness in inhibiting and dealing with plastic waste pollution. Under the cooperation with MRC, Japanese government through the Asian Development Bank apportioned assistance as much as 6.6 billion USD (Mekong Eye, 2018). Hence, Japan is not only cooperation partner but they are also “Friend of the Mekong” (Zawaki, 2019).
In the beginning of this year, Mekong countries have taken the environmental issue solemnly. One of the tangible examples to cope with this issue is Thailand. As one of the active members of the “Green Mekong Forum” and a partner of the MJC, Thailand has committed to establish program of “Everyday Say No to Plastic Bags” under plastic waste management toward 2037 policy which has been introduced by the Ministry of Environmental Quality (The Thaiger, 2020). Through the speech of Environmental Day occasion on 4 December 2019, the Thai Minister of Department of Environmental Quality persuaded all Thais to discourage using plastic and Styrofoam as well as officially to stop providing plastic bag started January 2020 (the Nation Thailand, 2019). Both retail and major companies, such as 7-Eleven convenience stores and Central Group have joined this program. Therefore, recently people who go shopping are required to bring their own bag or the retail shops providing an alternative to use cloth bags for shopping. The program has been predicted to eradicate plastic waste as many as 75 billion pieces in Thailand every year (Reuters, 2019). Following Thailand’s action, other Mekong countries, namely Vietnam also has intentionally established banning single-use plastics program in 2021 (CCI France Vietnam, 2019).
In conclusion, the 11th Mekong – Japan Cooperation Summit urged that the Mekong region must take actions on environmental protection. The innuendo of the environmental security action is to create the sustainable resources that affects 60 million people who rely their life on the Mekong River as their main resource for food chains and economic activity, even more to support Japanese economic growth and political battle. As green Mekong agenda is important, Japan, eventually, has taken trigger action to influence Mekong countries by appointing Thailand as a host of “Green Mekong Forum” every two year. Due to being trusted as a host for Green Mekong Forum, Thailand was stimulated to become the first country in Southeast Asia which established banning single plastic use policy in the beginning of 2020. It is expected Thailand became a tangible example of lesson learned for other Mekong countries. Hence, the “Green Mekong Forum” has seen as an effective medium for Mekong countries on sharing their commitment for eradicating waste pollution and enhancing public awareness.
Thanks to Dr. Yuki Miyake, Deputy Director of Asian Research Center for International Development, School of Social Innovation, Mae Fah Luang University for supervising this article.
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