VIENTIANE (Reuters) – The secretive communist government of Laos, a country with a population of less than 7 million, rarely causes a ripple on the diplomatic circuit. And yet its sleepy capital will spring to life next week when global leaders arrive for an Asian summit.
Barack Obama will be among them, making the last push of his presidency to ‘rebalance’ Washington’s foreign policy toward Asia, a strategy widely seen as a response to China’s economic and military muscle-flexing across the region.
The might of Laos’ giant neighbor to the north is hard to miss in Vientiane: wealthy Chinese driving SUVs overtake tuk-tuks sputtering along the roads and Chinese-backed hotels sprout from noisy construction sites in one of Asia’s most low-rise cities.
But diplomats say Obama could be pushing on an open door in Laos, thanks to a change of government there in April.
They say the country’s new leaders appear ready to tilt away from Beijing and lean more closely toward another neighbor, Vietnam, whose dispute with China over the South China Sea has pushed it into a deepening alliance with the United States.
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Image courtesy of REUTERS/Yuri Gripas