China-Laos Relations Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow

Good neighbors, good friends, good comrades, and good partners for 60 years, the two countries are now building a closer community with a shared future

Sixty years have passed since China-Laos diplomatic relations were established on April 25, 1961. After decades of development and interaction, the two countries continue to share similar ideals and goals, compatible strategies, and a bond of brotherhood. One could go so far as to call them the model of state-to-state relations. China’s summarization of the bilateral relationship is frequently “good neighbors, good friends, good comrades and good partners,” which is fairly effusive compared to descriptions of its relations with other countries, evidencing the intimacy of relations between China and Laos.

Solid Foundation

On March 23, Xi Jinping, general secretary of the Communist Party of China (CPC) Central Committee and president of the People’s Republic of China, sent a congratulatory message to Thongloun Sisoulith, general secretary of the Lao People’s Revolutionary Party (LPRP) Central Committee, on his election as the president of the Lao PDR. Xi noted that since the establishment of diplomatic ties 60 years ago, relations between the two parties and the two countries have braved the waves and grown stronger as time has passed. In recent years, the traditional friendship between China and Laos has reached a new level, the strategic mutual trust has embraced progress, practical cooperation has taken new steps, and bilateral relations have entered a new era of building a community with a shared future. Since last year, China and Laos have been joining hands to fight the COVID-19 pandemic, which vividly demonstrated the spirit of the China-Laos community with a shared future and consolidated and deepened the brotherly friendship between the two sides.

On November 14, 2017, General Secretary of the Communist Party of China Central Committee and Chinese President Xi Jinping (left) attends the foundation-laying ceremony for the Mahosot Hospital in Vientiane alongside then General Secretary of the Lao People’s Revolutionary Party Central Committee and Lao President Bounnhang Vorachit. (LI TAO)

At the beginning of 2020, then-Lao Prime Minister Thongloun Sisoulith visited China. In Beijing, he toured the dispatch and command center of the China State Railway Group Company. In Xi’an, he visited the general assembly line of the BYD Auto Industry Company. The visit promoted pragmatic cooperation on building a Laos-China community with a shared future.

Two years earlier, Chinese President Xi Jinping chose Vietnam and Laos as destinations for his first overseas tour after the 19th CPC National Congress in 2017, which sent a clear message to the world of China’s priority on comprehensive strategic partnerships with the two countries and joint promotion of development of the socialist cause.

The Lao Prime Minister at the time, Thongloun, had been attending the East Asia Summit, so he hurried back to Laos to bid farewell to Xi. “Your outstanding political wisdom and leadership have contributed to China’s historic achievements,” he said to the Chinese president. “We firmly believe that the Chinese people will continue to seize new victories along a new journey towards great strategic goals, which will continue to serve as great inspiration for the socialist cause of Laos. Laos and China are a community with a shared future.”

Then-Lao Prime Minister Thongloun Sisoulith (center) visits the general assembly line of the BYD Auto Industry Company in Xi’an during his visit to China in January 2020.

The year 2019 marked the 10th anniversary of the China-Laos comprehensive strategic partnership, an important milestone in the history of China-Laos relations. Chinese President Xi Jinping and his then Lao counterpart Bounnhang Vorachit signed an action plan on building a China-Laos community with a shared future, which has served as a blueprint for deepening bilateral practical cooperation in various fields.

The preface of the action plan states that China and Laos share common ideals and goals, same social systems, similar development paths, and related prospects. During periods of both revolutionary war and socialist construction, it adds, the two parties, two countries, and two peoples have forged a deep friendship and created a model of peaceful coexistence and mutually beneficial cooperation for win-win outcomes. The succinct statement highlights the historical and realistic foundation for building a China-Laos community with a shared future.

Generations of Friendship

Sixty years ago, Mao Zedong, Zhou Enlai, Kaysone Phomvihane, and other leaders of the elder generation of the two countries forged a deep friendship based on a genuine meeting of minds, and laid a solid foundation for lasting friendship. In the new era, the top leaders of the two parties and the two countries have maintained close contact and frequent exchange of visits. China-Laos friendship has been further cemented with fresh vitality.

During his state visit to Laos in 2017, Chinese President Xi Jinping devoted time from his tight schedule to meeting with the family of the late Quinim Pholsena, a Lao revolutionary leader who served as the country’s foreign minister from 1962 to 1963.

Chinese President Xi Jinping (second left) is joined by then Lao President Bounnhang Vorachit (first right) on a visit to a Lao patient recovering after cataract surgery performed by a Chinese doctor at Mahosot Hospital in Vientiane on November 14, 2017. (MA ZHANCHENG)

Before diplomatic relations were established between the two countries, Quinim traveled to China several times as a Lao government minister to meet with Chinese leaders Mao Zedong, Zhou Enlai, and Chen Yi to make preparations, during which time they forged a profound revolutionary friendship.

In the 1960s, Quinim sent eight of his children to live and study at Bayi School in Beijing, where Xi was also a student and got to know them.

“How have you been, my sister?” said Xi to Quinim’s fourth daughter Khemvieng Pholsena, greeting her at an informal meeting that resembled a family gathering. 

During the half-hour meeting, Xi recounted meeting his Lao peers in the sixth grade, saying that he was impressed by their colorful national dress at the time. In a lighthearted moment, Xi said he remembered that Quinim’s second son was nicknamed Chubby Boy.

“The friendship between the Pholsena family and China has become a well-traveled story amid the rich history of friendly exchanges between the two countries and set a good example for bilateral relations based on the value of equality and friendship,” he said. “You are well versed in the cultures and histories of both countries and have directly participated in the cause of friendship between our two countries, playing key roles as bridge builders and ambassadors of China-Laos friendship.”

At the end of the meeting, Xi presented the Pholsena family a photo of their meeting during his visit to Laos as Chinese vice president in 2010. “We will keep General Secretary Xi’s words close to our hearts,” said Khemkan, the son of Quinim’s fifth daughter Khemmani Pholsena. “We’ll follow his example to continue our efforts to boost Laos-China friendship.”

Bright Prospects

The Laos-China Railway will begin operation by the end of this year, realizing the Lao dream of transforming from a “land-locked country” to a “land-linked country.” With a designed speed of 160 km/h, the railway has been built according to Chinese standards of management and technology. The journey from Kunming in southwest China to the Lao capital Vientiane is expected to be just overnight on a high-speed train, which will create an important link between China and ASEAN as well as a conduit of the China-Laos Economic Corridor, boosting development of this area of Southeast Asia.

China’s poverty alleviation successes in recent decades are characterized by many moving stories. One of the least developed countries in the world, Laos has a good natural endowment for agriculture but insufficient funds and technical support. Xi Jinping noted that agriculture should be a priority area for bilateral cooperation. China is keen on leveraging Laos’ advantageous natural conditions to help lift its people out of poverty. In his meeting with then-Lao Prime Minister Thongloun, Xi elaborated on Chinese experience in targeted poverty alleviation. Thongloun said that he was looking forward to Chinese assistance with poverty alleviation in his country. Xi was happy to lay out an immediate strategy. 

China and Laos share common ideals and goals, same social systems, similar development paths, and related prospects. The two parties, two countries, and two peoples have forged a deep friendship and created a model of peaceful coexistence and mutually beneficial cooperation for win-win outcomes.

“We would also welcome investment from Chinese enterprises, especially high-tech ones, to help Laos develop advanced technology,” Thongloun noted. Many Chinese enterprises such as the Power Construction Corporation of China (POWERCHINA), China Three Gorges Corporation (CTG), and China Southern Power Grid Company (CSG) have actively answered the call and helped introduce cutting edge operations in their respective fields to fuel the development of Laos. Their joint work in Laos has also contributed to the implementation of the Belt and Road Initiative and promoted pragmatic bilateral cooperation and people-to-people friendship.

For example, the Nam Ou River Cascade Hydropower Plant in Laos is expected to supply 12 percent of the country’s entire electricity consumption when fully operational. The state-of-the-art hydroelectric plant has been built alongside a beautiful livable reallocation village for local residents with minimal impact on their arable land, forest coverage, and overall environment. The innovative automatic water information monitoring system will provide data support for construction of a national water resources and water environment management system, flood control and disaster reduction, and centralized management of hydroelectric plants in Laos.

Thanks to the joint commitment of top party and state leaders of both China and Laos, the people of the two countries are seizing development opportunities afforded by strong China-Laos relations and contributing greatly to building a closer China-Laos community with a shared future.

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