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Hillary Clinton makes historic visit in forgotten Laos
   
 
 
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Hillary Clinton makes historic visit in forgotten Laos

 
Thursday, 19 July 2012 10:15
 
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Hillary Rodham Clinton became last week the first US Secretary of State to visit Laos in more than five decades, setting a path to transform the country bombed by the American planes during the Vietnam War into a new American influence foothold in Asia. The last top US diplomat to go on visit to Laos was John Foster Dulles during Eisenhower Presidency in the 50s. When he went over there in 1955, the country was in the primary stages of a bloody civil war that would last until 1975. A Communist group called the Pathet Lao, which was allied with the North Vietnamese forces and the Viet Cong, struggled during those long decades in overthrowing the royalist government, which was supported by Thailand, South Vietnam and the West.

The American troops had been stationed in this area for years before formally inaugurating a combat mission there in 1964 with the signing of the Tonkin Gulf Resolution, the official beginning of the USA involvement in the Vietnam War. Laos was important to the American presence in Vietnam: it was not only that the United States wanted to keep Laos itself from falling under Soviet influence; the country was also integral to the war efforts going on across the border, since North Vietnam was using an overland supply route, the so called “Ho Chi Minh Trail”, through Laos to support their offensive against the South.

At the end of the war, Laos entered the communist orbit and the relations between the Asian country and the United States totally blocked. An american diplomat had not set foot on Laos territory since 1955, and for this reason Hillary Clinton's visit is historic.

As part of her week-long diplomatic tour of South-east Asia, Mrs Clinton met the Prime Minister and Foreign Minister of Laos' communist government headed by Choummaly Sayasone in the capital city of Vientiane. The visit was over in a matter of hours: the Secretary of State next flew to Cambodia for a new round of meetings. Meeting with officials, Clinton discussed the diplomatic relations between Laos and the United States of America: the goal of her visit was to bolster America's standing in some of the fastest growing markets of the world, and counter China's expanding economic, diplomatic and military dominance of the region.

In her meetings, Mrs Clinton discussed environmental concerns over a proposed dam on the Mekong River, the world's 12th-longest river and the 7th-longest in Asia - it is already heavily dammed, with many more dams planned and under construction - as well as investment opportunities and the joint efforts to clean up the 270 million unexploded bombs dropped across Laos over what was once called the "Ho Chi Minh Trail". Greater American support for programs in these fields will be included in a multimillion-dollar initiative for Southern-east Asia: Washington has pledged $9.2 million dollars in financial assistance in 2012 to disarm unexploded ordnance, adding to the more than $59 million that the State Department says it has provided since 1995 to remove the explosives.

As "The Telegraph" wrote, during a visit in a Buddhist temple and in a US-funded prosthetic centre for victims of American munitions, Mrs Clinton met a man named Phongsavath Souliyalat who told her how he had lost both his hands and his eyesight from a cluster bomb on his 16th birthday, four years ago. «We have to do more», she told him. «That's one of the reasons I wanted to come here today, so that we can tell more people about the work that we should be doing together».

In his article appreared on "International Business Times", the analyst Jacey Fortin wrote that «Laos is a country forgotten». Laos is in dire need of international assistance: this landlocked country, which relies mostly on agriculture for revenue, suffers high poverty rates and a woefully underdeveloped infrastructure. According to the US Department of State, in 2010 90% of the government's budget came from foreign assistance. The economy suffered for years under a strict Communist government and command economy system but has seen piecemeal liberalization since 1986. Today's market-based economy remains subject to strong central planning, which is, in turn, hampered by endemic corruption. Still, growth is apparent, and the country's entry into the World Trade Organization is pending.

Laos relies on international aid to restore its economy, to create a real state which is subject to the rule of law, to improve the living conditions of its inhabitants and to help clear its contaminated land. In recent years, China has stepped up as Laos' principal source of assistance, but like many others in its region, Laos' government is wary of Beijing's intentions. Hillary Clinton's historic visit aims at bringing Laos in the american range, detaching it completely from the influence of China.

Last modified on Tuesday, 24 July 2012 22:05
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