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Laos - Foreign Relations

Over the course of two decades, the Pathet Lao revolu;ionary movenent grew from modest beginnings into a serious contender for power in Laos. This success was largely the result of the comprehensive assistance that the revolutionary forces received from North Vietnam. Ever since the inception of the Pathet Lao wovement, after the Second World War, Hanoi's military, economic, and organizational support had been the critical factor in the balance of forces in Laos.

China's policy toward Laos would appear to have been governed, above all, by considerations of national security, not by territorial ambitions. The principal Chinese objective, it seemed, was the removal from the area of all hostile powers and their influence: primarily of the United States but, since the intensification of the Sino-Soviet conflict, increasingly also of the Soviet Union. Invariably and inevitably, Peking reacted with particular sensitivity to military developments in Laos that approached China's southern border.

Despite their professed support for the Pathet Lao, the Soviets continued to maintain cordial relations with the non-Communist rump government of Souvanna Phouma. Peking, meanwhile, sided openly with the revolutionary forces in Laos and provided them with direct assistance out of South China. Thus, while Moscow pursued an ambivalent dual strategy in Laos, Peking actively sought to establish itself as the avowed sponsor of the Indochinese liberation movement.

While the Soviet Union and China continued to vie with each other in North Vietnam, the Conmunist sector of Laos -- which remained essentially a North Vietnamese client so long as there was fighting in Laos -- enjoyed a substantial measure of independence from both Soviet and Chinese influence, within the limits set by its dependence on North Vietnam.

The government that assumed power in December 1975 aligned itself with Vietnam and the Soviet bloc and adopted a hostile posture toward the West. In ensuing decades, Laos maintained close ties with the former Soviet Union and its eastern bloc allies, and depended heavily on the Soviet Union for most of its foreign assistance. Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, Laos has sought to improve relations with its regional neighbors.

Laos pursued increased intraregional ties during the mid-1990s, including observer status in Association of Southeast Asian Nations beginning in 1992. Laos was admitted into the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) in July 1997 and applied to join the World Trade Organization (WTO) in 1998. The government hoped to accede to the WTO by 2013. Currently, Laos' foreign policy concentrates on its immediate neighbors. Laos generally maintains a low profile in the larger international arena, although it has been playing an increasing role in activities of the Non-Aligned Movement and hosted the First States Party of the Cluster Munitions Convention in 2010. In 2011, Laos accepted the statutes of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

Laos enjoyed a "Special relationship" with Vietnam, the product of a 25-year mutual security treaty signed in 1977. Initially following the fall of the monarchy in Laos, the level influence of Vietnam in the affairs of Laos was very high. Also thought it continued into the mid-1990s, its intensity was said to be lessening. Relations with Thailand, Laos' primary economic partner, particularly in hydroelectricity, improved after period of distrust punctuated by border clashes. A border dispute dating to 1987 remained unsolved in the mid-1990s. Laos maintains a "special relationship" with Vietnam.

Although the two were allies during the Vietnam War, the China-Vietnam conflict in 1979 led to a sharp deterioration in Sino-Lao relations. These relations began to improve in the late 1980s, and in 1989 China and Laos normalized relations. Today China is becoming a major player in Laos; Chinese investment in Laos is increasing at a rapid rate, bringing with it a growing number of Chinese workers. China isthe second largest single foreign investor in Laos behind Vietnam. In 2003, Laos and Thailand signed agreements to cooperate on cross-border, labor, and counternarcotics issues. Laos and Thailand signed a joint communique in March 2007, the first in 20 years, covering infrastructure development, avian influenza, border control, and Hmong migration issues.

Laos is a member of the following international organizations: Agency for Cultural and Technical Cooperation (ACCT), Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), ASEAN Free Trade Area (AFTA), ASEAN Regional Forum, Asian Development Bank, Colombo Plan, Economic and Social Commission for Asia and Pacific (ESCAP), Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), G-77, International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (World Bank), International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), International Development Association (IDA), International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), International Finance Corporation (IFC), International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, International Labor Organization (ILO), International Monetary Fund (IMF), Interpol, International Olympic Commission (IOC), International Telecommunications Union (ITU), Mekong River Commission (MRC), Non-Aligned Movement (NAM), Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA), UN, United Nations Convention on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), United Nations Educational, Social and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO), Universal Postal Union (UPU), World Customs Organization, World Federation of Trade Unions, World Health Organization (WHO), World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), World Meteorological Organization (WMO), World Tourism Organization, and World Trade Organization (observer).

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Page last modified: 03-06-2012 18:54:45 ZULU