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Here is your Mekong Memo Laos for the week of December 20, 2023. Click on the link of our sponsor above, pay for a subscription, share with a friend or hit that reply button and tell us what you think.
Persistent Economic Challenges for 2024
According to this article, the Lao economic situation remains challenging, with no quick resolution in sight due to structural issues inherent in its communist governance. Despite efforts by Prime Minister Sonexay Siphandone, who assumed office in December 2022, economic woes persist. The government's repeated measures to tackle inflation and economic crisis have yet to yield significant improvements. The problems are deep-rooted, involving administrative and fiscal issues, high national debt, poor revenue collection, and inefficient public expenditure. The government's narrative suggests that these issues are manageable with better central bank policies, but the reality points to the need for long-standing structural challenges that require more than short-term fixes.
Read more: The Diplomat
Japan Summit Highlights Cooperation and Concerns
In a recent summit, Japanese Prime Minister Kishida met with Lao Prime Minister Sonexay, to enhancing bilateral relations and address regional issues. Kishida emphasized Japan's commitment to ASEAN, specifically Laos, in maintaining a rules-based international order and human dignity. He highlighted Japan's longstanding support in Laotian development across sectors and expressed interest in further cooperation in energy transition and decarbonization. The leaders also discussed regional affairs, including ASEAN's role in Myanmar's crisis, responses to North Korea, Russia's actions in Ukraine, and the Israel-Gaza situation. Both leaders agreed to continue their collaborative efforts on these each of these fronts.
Read more: Prime Minister’s Office of Japan
Seamless Tourism Vision for Mekong Region
Regional leaders from Thailand, Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia have proposed a collaborative effort to promote seamless tourism among their nations. This initiative, discussed during a summit in Tokyo, would eliminate the need for individual visas for travelers moving between these countries. The concept, specifically praised by Thai Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin, is hoped to stimulate regional tourism as the region struggles to recover after the pandemic. The proposal aligns with the "Visit Laos Year 2024" campaign, which seeks to attract more than 2.7 million international tourists (next article). This proposed international collaboration could involve a joint visa system or other measures to facilitate easier border crossings, improving the tourism experience and appeal across these Southeast Asian countries.
Tourism in the Pandemic's Aftermath
The Covid-19 pandemic severely impacted Laos' tourism industry, with a marked decline in both domestic and international travel. A recent World Bank report describes a drastic drop in domestic tourism from nearly 3 million in 2018 to 1.5 million in 2020, and an 83% decrease in international tourism in 2020 compared to the year prior. The pandemic led to widespread business closures and unemployment, particularly affecting women in tourism-related sectors. Despite the challenges, the industry is showing signs of recovery, with initiatives like the "Visit Laos 2024" campaign aiming to attract 2.4 million foreign visitors expected to generate substantial revenue.
Read more: Laotian Times
Thailand-Laos-China HSR Project Set for 2028
The Nong Khai-Vientiane section of the Thai-Laos-China high-speed rail (HSR) project is expected to be completed by 2028. This 7.3-kilometer stretch, costing an estimated THB 3 billion (US$86 million), is currently in the feasibility study phase. Challenges such as land expropriation issues and UNESCO assessments have caused delays, but the project promises to significantly improve cargo and passenger movements between Thailand, Laos, and China.
Read more: The Star
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