Phuket, Thailand (AFP) The United States held an unprecedented meeting Thursday with countries from the lower Mekong basin in what Washington said showed its commitment to combating climate change in Asia.
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton met with the foreign ministers of Cambodia, Laos, Thailand and Vietnam in the Thai island of Phuket during the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Regional Forum.
Each country in the meetings pledged to set up working teams to discuss further cooperation on water resources, education and human resources development, Thai foreign ministry spokeswoman Vimon Kidchob said.
Low-lying areas around the Mekong, Southeast Asia's largest river, are considered some of the world's most vulnerable to climate change and there is concern over pollution levels in the water.
During their meeting, the five nations pledged to hold annual ministerial meetings to discuss progress.
"The US told Mekong countries it has had similar environmental problems with the Mississippi river, which resulted from natural and man-made causes," Vimon told reporters.
On Wednesday, Clinton said the meeting would discuss "our shared interests and our emerging partnership on issues related to water, health and the environment".
She also announced the US administration's "commitment to deepen our engagement in Asia on the critical issue of climate change".
They had asked Congress for a seven-fold increase in funding for climate change aid in the region, she said.
The Mekong is a vital source of protein for 60 million people who live along its lower basin and is the world's largest inland fishery.
The WWF said in June that pollution in the Mekong has pushed freshwater dolphins in Cambodia and Laos to the brink of extinction, sparking a furious Cambodian government denial.
The conservation group, which is investigating how environmental contaminants got into the Mekong, said it suspected that high levels of mercury found in some dead dolphins came from gold mining activities.