Initiatives aimed at fostering regional economic cooperation and integration play an increasingly important role for economic as well as social development in Asia. Apart from helping to dismantle trade barriers, the initiatives promote investment and help to improve the capacity of the regions to connect to the global market. At the same time, a common market means that countries in the region are better protected against economic stagnation and crises in industrialised countries. Moreover, subregional initiatives help improve the degree to which land-locked countries are connected to those on the periphery, close to borders. As a result, in addition to reducing regional disparities and therefore alleviating poverty, the initiatives help the regions to develop competitive advantages.
Although the global trend towards cooperation between two or more states is particularly pronounced in Asia, more needs to be done to improve the implementation of these cooperative arrangements at institutional level.
The economic cooperation between the People’s Republic of China and selected, economically weaker neighbouring countries is strengthened through subregional initiatives such as the Greater Tumen Initiative (GTI) and Pan-Beibu Gulf Economic Cooperation (PBG).
Support for the GTI and PBG subregional initiatives was also given in the predecessor project, Regional Economic Cooperation and Integration (RCI) in Asia. As target countries, activities focus on Mongolia within the GTI and the Kingdom of Cambodia, the Lao People’s Democratic Republic and Viet Nam within the PBG. Both initiatives link up the interests and objectives of actors at national, (sub)regional and local level and provide a networking platform for representatives from the organised business community, the private sector, science and academia as well as civil society.
The project operates in the following three areas, which are closely interlinked: (1) Improving the structural conditions required for regional economic cooperation; (2) Strengthening the implementing capacities of relevant actors; (3) Using private sector instruments.
The approach therefore centers on strengthening and improving the quality of economic cooperation between the specified target countries and China, which is to adopt an active role as both, an economic and development partner, as well as a driver of subregional cooperation and integration. In this connection, the project is providing assistance above all for trade facilitation measures, the maritime industry, cross-border economic zones and development partnerships with the private sector as tools of regional cooperation. In remote border regions especially, where the economies and the structures in place are weak, the project aims to create pro-poor spillover effects by increasing economic integration, border trade and investment.
The project builds on the results of the aforementioned predecessor project RCI in Asia as well as on the experience gained in international cooperation with regional programmes in the fields of economic integration and private sector development.
The information and training courses offered by the project on the use of regional trade agreements by the private sector improve access to the Chinese market for economically less developed neighbouring countries. The project also encourages the inclusion of private companies in local cross-border cooperation.
The capacity of partner countries to become involved in economic integration processes through regional initiatives is enhanced and will further evolve due to sector studies and the development of expertise and resources. Training courses and, in particular, the regional transfer of knowledge as a form of South-South cooperation have already strengthened the organisational structures and the professionalism of regional initiatives and secretariats.