• Kyodo

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The prime minister of Laos, Thongsing Thammavong, arrived in Tokyo on Wednesday for a four-day official visit to commemorate the 60th anniversary of diplomatic relations with Japan and expand political and economic ties between the two countries.

Thongsing plans to hold an audience with Emperor Akihito and a meeting with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Friday, according to the Foreign Ministry.

The visit comes as the two countries step up economic ties, with the number of Japanese investors in Laos doubling to about 120 late last year from the 2012 level, according to Japanese government data.

“We will make efforts to further upgrade the comprehensive partnership our nations have,” Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida said at the outset of a meeting on Wednesday with Thongsing that was open to the media.

Kishida also thanked Laos for giving four Asian elephants to a zoo in the city of Kyoto last year to commemorate its 60th anniversary. The elephants were unveiled to the public last week.

Thongsing, in response, said his trip to Japan this year comes at a significant time and that he is “extremely happy to see that their comprehensive partnership is expected to be upgraded to a strategic partnership.”

Posting real economic growth of around 8 percent in recent years, Laos is known as a “plus-one” country for foreign businesses seeking to avoid potential risks from excessively concentrating their operations in neighboring Thailand and China.

Thongsing will address a business seminar on Thursday in Tokyo and Hiroyuki Ishige, chairman of the government-backed Japan External Trade Organization (JETRO), will give a briefing on the group’s activity in Laos, according to organizers.

JETRO opened an office in Vientiane in April last year to strengthen information gathering and assist Japanese investors and prospective investors in Laos.

Japan aims to promote ties with Laos and other members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, which have pledged to improve ties and further development as the 10-nation bloc moves to establish a more integrated ASEAN Community at the end of this year.

In January, Japan signed bilateral aviation agreements with Laos and Cambodia to allow airlines to operate regular direct flights between Japan and the two countries.

On July 4, Japan will hold a summit in Tokyo with five ASEAN states along the Mekong River at which the leaders are expected to craft a new strategy for Tokyo to contribute to sustainable development of the Mekong region beyond 2015.

The five Mekong states are Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand and Vietnam.

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