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Vietnam’s neighborhood policy prioritizes Lao PDR by Dr Vijay Sakhuja

Article: 001/2023

The endearing relations between Vietnam and Lao PDR have received a boost. Right at the start of the New Year 2023, on 11 January, Prime Minister Pham Minh Chinas availed the opportunity to visit Laos PDR. It was a short visit (30 hours only), but was packed with at least 20 engagements. As many as ten cooperation agreements were signed covering diverse fields (banking-finance, transport, economic diplomacy, science and technology, IT and communications, education and training, and health) clearly showcasing the comprehensive nature of their bilateral relationship. The visit also had two ‘firsts’ i.e. it was the first time Prime Minister Chinh visited Laos PDR since he took office on 5 April 2021, also the first time that Lao Prime Minister Sonexay Siphandone received a foreign leader upon assuming the high office on 30 December 2022.

Both leaders co-chaired the 45th meeting of the Vietnam-Laos Inter-Governmental Committee, celebrated the 45th anniversary of the signing of Laos-Vietnam Treaty of Amity and Cooperation, and hailed the 60th anniversary of the establishment of the Laos-Vietnam diplomatic ties. It was also an occasion to take stock of the successes and progress made in the Laos-Vietnam Solidarity and Friendship Year 2022.

The visit is also a reflection of the dynamism in their bilateral relations and fits well into the Vietnamese policy of building robust relations with ASEAN member states particularly with the neighbours. In this context, in April 2022, Secretary of the Hanoi Party Committee Dinh Tien Dung led a high-ranking delegation from Hanoi to Vientiane and signed a MoU (2022-2025 period) as the legal framework for city-capital cooperation thus taking the bilateral relations to a new height.

As far bilateral economic relations are concerned, it has been a success story: “trade exchanges between the two countries rose by 24% last year to US$1.73 billion. Vietnamese investment capital in Laos also rose by 52.4% to reach more than US$180 million”. Also, Vietnam continues to be the third largest investor in Laos, with over 200 FDI projects worth over $5 billion.

Lao PDR is a landlocked country and requires access to ports in the region to engage in international trade. It now has access to the seas through the recently opened Vietnamese port at Vung Ang in Ha Tinh Province.

It merits mention that electricity generated from hydropower projects in Lao PDR is critical for Vietnam’s economy. Both sides have signed MoUs under which Lao PDR would export 8,148 MW to Vietnam by 2030. Furthermore, Lao PDR’s electricity exports to Cambodia is estimated to reach 6,000 MW by 2030. Also, Lao PDR and Vietnam Electricity (EVN) have agreed to implement 25 projects with a combined capacity of 2,180 megawatts.

A Vietnamese defence delegation led by Deputy Minister of National Defense Senior Lieutenant General (SNR-LG) Hoang Xuan Chien had accompanied the Prime Minister. Defence cooperation is another key pillar of Vietnam-Laos bilateral cooperation. It features many important initiatives, and the Political Theory School and the National Culture School for the Lao People’s Army are now the symbols of bilateral defence cooperation in general and symbolize cooperation between the Party and political work in particular. In fact both Vietnamese and Laotian leaders take pride in recalling the glorious history of the two countries’ when the Party members, soldiers, and people “fell down for the sake of the two countries’ revolutions”.

Both sides are committed to ensuring their shared borders are peaceful, friendly and stable and in October 2022, they noted that their respective militaries have taken practical approaches while conducting cooperative tasks such as “search and rescue, border protection, and human resources training, among others.”

While the bilateral defence cooperation has made significant headway, both countries have given importance to trilateral cooperation to include Cambodia. Being neighbours, it is natural for such an approach. In September 2022 the defence ministers of Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia met in Vientiane to strengthen trilateral defence ties. Their agenda had included discussions on issues such as “regional and international issues of common concern; cooperation orientations for the time ahead, including increasing all-level mutual visits, holding joint search and rescue exercises, and coordinating to combat transnational crimes; and sharing information about hostile forces sabotaging their countries.”

Finally, Vietnam and Lao PDR are committed to comprehensive development of good relations. They are also committed to political stability and economic development. Besides, both countries are steadfast to support ASEAN led mechanisms such as the ASEAN Defence Ministers’ Meeting (ADMM) and the ADMM Plus, thus promoting the stature and role of each nation.

(Dr Vijay Sakhuja is a security analyst.)

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