US policy towards Laos unlikely to change
US foreign policy towards Laos, with growing bilateral ties and cooperation in recent years under former President Barack Obama's administration, is unlikely to change despite White House administration change, according to US ambassador to Laos Rena Bitter.
Meanwhile, the Asia-Pacific region will continue to be enormously important to American prosperity and security, Ms Bitter told Lao media in a recent interview at the American Centre in Vientiane.
The has been debate across the globe and region on US foreign policy after Republican Donald Trump was sworn in on January 20 as 45th US president succeeding Democrat Obama.
To what extent the US's pivot-to-Asia foreign policy initiated by the Obama administration will be revised by the current administration also dominated discussion by regional observers, notably after President Trump withdrew the US from the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a 12-nation trade deal, which was a linchpin of Obama's Asia policy.
Ambassador Bitter stated that US engagement in the region was based on shared interests and American interests would not change even though there was administration change in the White House from one party to another.
She added that President Trump and his new administration have showed the world the Asia-Pacific continues to be enormously important to American prosperity and security, reflected by the fact US Defence Secretary James Mattis made his first trips to Japan and South Korea after the new administration took office recently.
Additionally, two congress members of both Parties have supported a new conventional Asean caucus aiming to create and build ties between the legislative branch of the US government and legislatures throughout the region.
“So the Asia-Pacific will always be important to the United States and there is continued bipartisan support for this bilateral relationship in particular,” she said.
Economically, trade in goods between Asean and the United Stated expanded five percent in 2015 and topped US$226 billion making Asean the US's fourth-largest trading partner, according to statistics revealed in February last year by the White House.
US companies have been the leading source of foreign direct investment (FDI) in Asean countries. With a stake of over US$226 billion, US FDI in Asean nations has nearly doubled since 2008. Meanwhile, FDI from Asean countries in the United States was US$24.2 billion in 2014.
Regarding Laos-US relations, the ambassador recalled the growing development of bilateral ties, which Lao President Bounnhang Vorachit and then US President Obama agreed to upgrade into a comprehensive partnership during Obama's historic visit to Laos last year.
The comprehensive partnership lays the foundations for the two nations to cooperate in the future, particularly in areas of political and diplomatic relations, trade and economic ties, education and training, environment and health, fighting drug trafficking, UXO clearance, human rights, culture, sports and tourism.
A joint statement issued by the two leaders outlined frameworks for enhancing their cooperative relations based on mutual respect for each other's political system, as well as respect for one another's independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity, which will contribute to peace, stability and cooperation in the region and the world.
Greater US engagement has been seen. Mr Obama announced the doubling of annual financial assistance for the clearance of unexploded ordnance (UXO) to US$30 million a year over the next three years totalling US$90 million. The US also pledged to provide US$27 million for the school meals programme over the next five years and US$6 million for a three-year community hygiene and food programme for mothers and children among others.
Ambassador Bitter believed major US engagement with Laos would continue despite administration change in the white House.
“Our relationship is based on shared interests, [which] suggests strongly and it happens to be true that doesn't vary from administration to administration,” she told the media.
The ambassador added the comprehensive partnership provided a platform for Laos and US to cooperate together and grow the bilateral relationship.
By Souksakhone Vaenkeo
(Latest Update March 06, 2017)