By Wang Fengjuan
This year marks the 60th anniversary of the establishment of China-Laos diplomatic relations. Development in both countries, as well as the bilateral relationship, has reached new heights. China Report ASEAN recently interviewed Lao Ambassador to China Khamphao Ernthavanh on cooperation between the two countries.
China Report ASEAN: This year marks the 60th anniversary of the establishment of China-Laos diplomatic ties. What do you think of the development of bilateral relations over the past 60 years?
Ambassador Khamphao Ernthavanh: I highly value the successful outcomes of Laos-China relations over the past 60 years. The two countries provided mutual support and assistance during the national liberation struggle and continue to work together during national development. Laos and China are connected by rivers and mountains, and peoples of the two countries have been maintaining close communication and supporting each other. Since the two countries established diplomatic relations on April 25, 1961, bilateral relations and cooperation have been strengthened and enhanced. The leaders of both countries have attached importance to bilateral relations and agreed in 2009 to upgrade diplomatic ties to a comprehensive strategic partnership of cooperation with principles of being good neighbors, good friends, good comrades, and good partners. In 2019, the two countries decided to build a community of shared future. It is noteworthy that the current Laos-China relationship is at its best time in history.
In the meantime, the year 2021 marks a significant milestone of bilateral relations and cooperation in a new era. The two sides are continuing great efforts to support, strengthen, and deepen cooperation in many areas such as politics, economics, and cultural exchange to bring benefit to our people as well as contribute to the prosperity and development of the region and the world.
China Report ASEAN: What achievements have been made in the synergy between the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) and the Lao strategy of transforming from a land-locked to a land-linked country? In what potential fields could China and Laos enhance cooperation in the future?
Ambassador Khamphao Ernthavanh: Laos and China are engaging in close cooperation in BRI construction. H.E. Mr. Bounnhang Vorachith, then-general secretary of the Lao People’s Revolutionary Party (LPRP) Central Committee and president of Lao PDR, attended the Second Belt and Road Forum in Beijing in 2019. My view is that the BRI proposed by President Xi Jinping has become an important platform and mechanism in this region. Now, Lao PDR and PR China are accelerating the Laos-China railway which is a symbolic project between Laos and China. It is also a project under the framework of the BRI. After completion in December 2021, the project will contribute greatly to the national development of Lao PDR, especially the strategy of transforming Laos from a land-locked to a land-linked country.
Currently, Lao PDR is devoting considerable attention to logistics infrastructure development including the north-south and east-west economic corridors to connect to the ASEAN economic corridor. Furthermore, Laos and China focus on improving highway construction, particularly the expressway from Vientiane to Boten (Luangnamtha), of which the first phase from Vientiane to Vanvieng is already complete. The second phase, from Vangvieng to Luangprabang, is currently under construction. Meanwhile, Lao PDR is developing 12 special economic zones alongside a relevant economic corridor including a dry port connecting to the east-west economic corridor. Many special economic zones have been supported and developed by Chinese investors. Laos and China should further enhance cooperation to implement the BRI and promote peace, prosperity, and sustainable development for all countries along the Belt and Road. By linking BRI with MPAC 2025, both sides can facilitate trade and investment between the region and China.
China Report ASEAN: China and Laos are both members of the Lancang-Mekong Cooperation (LMC) mechanism, a subregional cooperation platform established in 2016. How would you evaluate the cooperation between China and Laos under the LMC framework?
Ambassador Khamphao Ernthavanh: Lao PDR not only maintains good bilateral relations and cooperation with China, but the two sides have also attached importance to collaboration in multilateral areas to play fruitful roles on regional and international stages. I highly value the achievements made in Mekong-Lancang Cooperation in the past years and the many successful outcomes consistent with related action plans, which supported sustainable social-economic development and narrowed the development gap in the Mekong-Lancang sub-region through win-win cooperation.
The Third Mekong-Lancang Leaders’ Meeting co-chaired by Laos and China convened successfully in August 2020 through video conference. Leaders endorsed the Vientiane Declaration of the Third Mekong-Lancang Leaders’ Meeting, which became a key document to elaborate on related documents including the Sanya Declaration and the Phnom Pen Declaration. Member countries are working closely to cement cooperation in three pillars and five priority areas, actively implement the Five-Year Plan of Action on Mekong-Lancang Cooperation (2018-2022), enhance the role of national secretariats, and effectively utilize the early harvest project and Chinese special fund. Those efforts are contributing to development in the Mekong-Lancang region as well as to building a new initiative on the MLC Economic Development Belt. This work is also benefiting construction of the ASEAN Community, the BRI, and the United Nations 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.
I highly value the achievements made in Mekong-Lancang Cooperation in the past years and the many successful outcomes consistent with related action plans, which supported sustainable social-economic development and narrowed the development gap in the Mekong-Lancang sub-region through win-win cooperation.
China Report ASEAN: As COVID-19 spread around the globe, China and Laos stood together to fight the virus. What could both countries do to deepen China-Laos cooperation in public health?
Ambassador Khamphao Ernthavanh: The Parties and governments of the two countries continue to work closely to prevent and control COVID-19. China not only provided in-cash support, but also sent a medical team to support the prevention and control of the epidemic in Laos as early action, which helped Laos succeed in combating the outbreak in a timely manner. The two governments also agreed to launch a “fast track” to facilitate trade distribution and some essential movement.
The Chinese government kindly provided vaccines to more than 50 developing countries, and Laos recently received 300,000 doses from China. Hopefully the two countries will maintain frequent information exchange and experience sharing on combating COVID-19.
Both countries have attached importance to enhancing public health cooperation, particularly the improvement of public health infrastructure. The Mahosod Hospital, funded by the Chinese Government, is a flagship project for public health cooperation between Laos and China and is now 80 percent complete. Chinese President Xi Jinping, also general secretary of the Communist Party of China Central Committee, joined the then-General Secretary of LPRP Central Committee and Lao President Bounnhang Vorachit to attend the groundbreaking ceremony during his state visit to Laos in 2017. The two sides will continue to promote experience sharing in epidemic control, exchange lessons learned in public health, and promote human resources development in the public health sector. The two countries attach importance to utilizing multilateral mechanisms such as ASEAN and Mekong-Lancang Cooperation to strengthen public health capacity and safeguard people’s wellbeing.