Message From CMLC President
Daniel J. Mitterhoff, Esq.
China-Mekong Law Center, Inc.
WHY THE MEKONG REGION?
The term “Greater-Mekong Subregion (GMS)” is a geographic-cum-economic concept first articulated by the Asian Development Bank in the 1980s. Consisting of two Chinese provinces--Yunnan Province and Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region--and the five countries of mainland Southeast Asia--Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand and Vietnam--the GMS is now considered an area of integrated development broadly along the spine of the mighty Mekong river, which originates from the Tibetan plateau, and traverses nearly 3000 miles through Southwest China—where it is known as the Lancang River--into Myanmar, Laos, down to Thailand, through Cambodia, and emptying into the South China Sea via the Mekong Delta in southern Vietnam.
The GMS is a region of enormous anthropological and environmental diversity. With a total population of around 325 million people, a significant portion of which are ethnic minorities whose communities often straddle national borders, inclusive development remains an imperative. The area is also one of amazing richness of flora and fauna (fish diversity is second only to the Amazon river basin), the preservation of which is important not only as global heritage, but because the livelihood of so many depends on the region’s ecological health.
Despite its huge economic potential, the GMS is extremely fragile, both socially and environmentally, plagued by an array of problems including, but not limited to, stateless persons; illegal drug trade and drug addiction; war and refugees; trafficking in persons; cross-border criminal enterprise; unequal access to social services and credit; exploitation of migrant labor; environmental degradation (over-fishing, over-logging and pollution); insufficient public participation in development decisions; disputes over water-use rights; and un-remedied injustice. In many parts of the GMS, there remains a dearth of political and judicial infrastructure to manage the resolution of disputes and dampen broader social tensions, further limiting regional potential.
At China-Mekong Law Center, we believe that well-written laws, stronger legal institutions and competent ethical lawyers can make a positive difference in the sustainable development of the GMS. This is why we have dedicated ourselves to training professionals to serve the needs of all communities in the GMS. Our flagship project, the Mekong Region Legal Studies Program endeavors to gather students from throughout the GMS into the same classroom for joint exploration of the laws, legal systems and legal problems/solutions associated with development challenges in the GMS. We truly believe that graduate level law students--by sharing regional perspectives under the guidance of professors studied not only in their respective subject expertise, but the broader issues confronting the GMS--can ultimately emerge as a cadre of lawyers who understand the law, comparatively and internationally, and the “Mekong,” its peoples and its problems, possessing the skills to solve these problems for the betterment of the entire region. We expect that these future professionals will represent all stakeholders in the GMS--whether disadvantaged communities, needy citizens or businessmen/entrepreneurs—all with a deep commitment to the healthy, sustainable, fair and just development of the region.
From January-May 2016, China-Mekong Law Center launched a "pilot" of the Mekong Region Legal Studies Program bringing two students from China, two students from Myanmar, two students from Thailand and two students from Vietnam into the same classroom for study together in four intensive law courses: 1) Comparative Study of Mekong Region Legal Systems; 2) Introduction to the Chinese Legal System; 3) Comparative Government Procurement Law; and 4) Project Design and Writing Grant Proposals. We are deeply pleased by the dynamic learning environment created in the Mekong Region Legal Studies Program and quite honored by the students' praise of not only course quality, but also the international community created by the coming together of students from throughout the region. This cohort of now regional lawyers remains in close contact and represents merely the start of China-Mekong Law Center's efforts to build bridges among professionals in the Greater Mekong Sub-region with the goal of fostering mutual understanding, enhancing cross-border professional networks and developing shared solutions to common problems impacting the region. Encouraged by the success of the 2016 pilot, China-Mekong Law Center endeavors to re-launch the Mekong Region Legal Studies Program in 2018.
Also in 2018, China-Mekong Law Center hopes to start a whole new project in collaboration with the community of Myanmar refugees and migrant worker family populations out of Mae Sot, Thailand. Ambitiously, China-Mekong Law Center has named this project the Salween International College of Law in line with China-Mekong Law Center's long term plan to create an innovative law school with a regional focus. Under the Salween International College of Law project, China-Mekong Law Center endeavors to initally establish a set of basic law courses available to the population of refugee and migrant student populations that have already completed high school equivalencies in the Thai-Myanmar borderlands, ultimately expanding this initiative to a full-scale Bachelors of Law (LLB) degree program serving student populations from both Myanmar and Thailand. Students in this program will not only be trained to solve problems associated with statelessness among local populations, but also in areas growing in importance such as border trade; business law to serve economic actors in the Special Economic Zones established in Thai-Myanmar border regions; environmental law to find balance in fragile, but resource rich habitats; and matters of public administration and decentralization as Myanmar moves from civil war to a new federalism. Dreaming big, China-Mekong Law Center hopes to eventually merge its Mekong Region Legal Studies Programs with the Salween International College of Law project to form a full-fledged law school offering both Bachelor and Master level law degrees.
China-Mekong Law Center's programs offer a unique opportunity to cultivate well-trained lawyers and legal advisors to serve vulnerable and disadvantaged populations in a rapidly changing environment, whether driven by region-wide connectivity throughout the Greater Mekong Region or the narrower, but still important, venue of Thai-Myanmar connectivity. Rapid growth has already come to the Mekong Region. We simply endeavor to ensure that such growth remains sustainable, fair, just and reasonable for the need of the peoples of the GMS. Please read more about the details about our Mekong Region Legal Studies Program and our Salween International College of Law project and support us by clicking on the "Donate" link below and making a financial contribution towards the success of these important initiatives. Thank you.