Noda met leaders of the five Mekong region countries
Japan on Saturday pledged $7.4 billion in aid over three years to help five Mekong states, in an attempt at fostering development in a resource-rich region also being courted by China
\"The stability and prosperity of East Asia will not be possible without the stability and prosperity of the Mekong region,\" Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda told a press conference following a summit in Tokyo.
\"The Japanese government will recognise the Mekong region as a significant destination of assistance and continue its cooperation strongly.\"
Noda met leaders of the five Mekong region countries -- Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand and Vietnam -- as Japan\'s export-dependent economy seeks cheap labour and investment to power growth.
In addition to 600 billion yen ($7.4 billion) in development assistance over three years to 2015, Tokyo presented a list of 57 infrastructure projects planned in the region, estimated to cost around 2.3 trillion yen.
\"Japan will strengthen its support for hard and soft infrastructure projects, especially projects which develop the East-West Economic Corridor and Southern Economic Corridor,\" an official statement said.
The corridors will link the Mekong region states in a bid to improve connectivity and trade.
The projects also include a roadway connecting Myanmar to Thailand.
\"A well-connected Mekong region requires actions and measures to facilitate economic development,\" the statement said.
The region along the lower reaches of the 4,800-kilometre (2,980-mile) Mekong River has historically been isolated by war and political turmoil and remains poorer than other parts of Southeast Asia.
Rivals Japan and China have for years poured aid and investment into the Mekong region, home to more than 220 million people, and are seen increasingly as competitors for influence.
All the five Mekong states belong to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), which has raised an ambitious plan to build a common, barrier-free market by 2015.
The Saturday morning summit was the fourth of its kind and also provided the latest stage for Myanmar as it journeys back to international respectability.
During its years of isolation, Japan -- unlike its Western allies -- maintained trade ties and dialogue with Myanmar, warning that a hard line on the then-ruling junta could push it closer to China, its key ally and commercial partner.
Noda later Saturday met Myanmar President Thein Sein for bilateral talks, in which the Japanese leader announced it would waive Myanmar\'s 300 billion yen ($3.7 billion) debt and resume suspended assistance to the country.