Laos prepares for rare Obama visit

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Obama Airforce OneBarack Obama will be the first acting US president to visit the communist nation of Laos when he will partake in the 11th East Asia Summit from September 6 to 8 in Vientiane. During the conference, he will have a bilateral meeting with Laos’ President Bounnhang Vorachith and attend a town hall session with young leaders.

Much like his visit to Cuba earlier this year, his trip to Laos is seen as “historic” given the mixed feelings the Laos population has towards the US which waged a “secret war” while fighting in Vietnam, dropping an estimated two million tonnes of bombs on the country in the 1960s and 1970s. About 30 per cent of the ordnance failed to explode, leaving a dangerous and costly legacy.

While the impoverished nation today plays no important role in Asia politics, it serves as a link between China and the rest of Southeast Asia with Beijing working hard to expand its influence. Most of all, for China, Laos is a key gateway to Southeast Asia in its “new Silk Road” trade strategy. Laos has also strategic importance to Vietnam which has a long land border with Laos that gives it access to markets in Thailand and beyond.

While China remains the most important investor in Laos, many Laotians are increasingly unhappy with the Chinese creating their own business ecosystems in Laos, ranging from opaque “special economic zones” with casinos to huge mining projects suspected of land grabbing.

For the US, Laos is not a strong investment draw, and, according to diplomats, there are less than a dozen US companies active there.

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Reading Time: 1 minute

Barack Obama will be the first acting US president to visit the communist nation of Laos when he will partake in the 11th East Asia Summit from September 6 to 8 in Vientiane. During the conference, he will have a bilateral meeting with Laos’ President Bounnhang Vorachith and attend a town hall session with young leaders.

Reading Time: 1 minute

Obama Airforce OneBarack Obama will be the first acting US president to visit the communist nation of Laos when he will partake in the 11th East Asia Summit from September 6 to 8 in Vientiane. During the conference, he will have a bilateral meeting with Laos’ President Bounnhang Vorachith and attend a town hall session with young leaders.

Much like his visit to Cuba earlier this year, his trip to Laos is seen as “historic” given the mixed feelings the Laos population has towards the US which waged a “secret war” while fighting in Vietnam, dropping an estimated two million tonnes of bombs on the country in the 1960s and 1970s. About 30 per cent of the ordnance failed to explode, leaving a dangerous and costly legacy.

While the impoverished nation today plays no important role in Asia politics, it serves as a link between China and the rest of Southeast Asia with Beijing working hard to expand its influence. Most of all, for China, Laos is a key gateway to Southeast Asia in its “new Silk Road” trade strategy. Laos has also strategic importance to Vietnam which has a long land border with Laos that gives it access to markets in Thailand and beyond.

While China remains the most important investor in Laos, many Laotians are increasingly unhappy with the Chinese creating their own business ecosystems in Laos, ranging from opaque “special economic zones” with casinos to huge mining projects suspected of land grabbing.

For the US, Laos is not a strong investment draw, and, according to diplomats, there are less than a dozen US companies active there.

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