During visit, President Xi inks deals to assist development in Laos

World Today

President Xi’s visit to Laos was the first in 11 years by a Chinese head of state. The two presidents oversaw the signing many agreements, focused on improving infrastructure, but also with a new emphasis on social welfare.

CGTN’s Rian Maelzer reports from Vientiane.

Follow Rian Maelzer on Twitter @rdamael

The young people who greeted President Xi’s arrival at the Lao presidential palace may well have brighter, more prosperous futures to look forward to thanks to the deals taking shape during Xi’s state visit there.

The presidents of the two countries oversaw the signing of numerous agreements to deepen cooperation including creating a China-Laos economic corridor, and China working with Laos to improve its skills training, science and technology, SMEs, electricity transmission and road infrastructure.

“Those projects and agreements that have been made are really crucial,” explained analyst Steven Cleary, “because they’re looking at both hard and soft infrastructure. And Laos has pressing needs in both areas, whether it be physical connectivity with the transport and electricity and those kinds of things which China has great experience but also human resources.”

On Tuesday, President Xi and Laos President Bounnang Vorachith took part in a foundation-laying ceremony for the major China-funded upgrading of a century-old hospital. China will also provide medical equipment and assist in staff training.

Xi said Tuesday that China and Laos need to channel more of their cooperation into public welfare projects.

But this visit should also advance bilateral trade and investment, which has hit nearly $2.4 billion a year and is up by 23 percent in 2017.

“Such a high profile visit from President Xi to Laos, it sets the right conditions for increasing investment and trade between the two countries,” Cleary said. “And that’s built very much on the close and cooperative relationship at the highest level, and then that helps to filter down to the people to people level, business, enterprise etc.”

The two presidents have also vowed to forge ahead with building a brand new fast rail link from Kunming in China’s Yunnan province to Vientiane and on to the nearby border with Thailand.

Aside from China and Thailand, Laos shares borders with Myanmar, Vietnam and Cambodia. And the hope is that this critically important Belt and Road rail project will help turn the disadvantage of Laos being landlocked, into the advantage of being land linked.