• Kyodo

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Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Laotian Prime Minister Thongloun Sisoulith agreed on a joint plan to spur development in Laos against the background of the Tokyo-Beijing rivalry to invest in and gain influence in the region.

Meeting on Tuesday for the first time since their talks at an outreach meeting during the Group of Seven summit in May, Abe and Thongloun affirmed Japan’s commitment to work with Laos in efforts to build links with neighboring countries, diversify the country’s economy and bridge urban-rural gaps.

“Through the specific measures in this plan, we hope to contribute to the realization of Laos’ national socioeconomic development plan,” a Japanese official quoted Abe as telling Thongloun.

Aiming to lift Laos out of the United Nations’ category of least developed countries by 2020, the plan provides for investment in transportation, power generation and distribution, human resources, agriculture and public works.

Laos is in Japan’s sights as a target for “high-quality” infrastructure investment, part of the economic measures Abe pushed at the G-7 outreach gathering to promote sustainable growth in emerging economies.

But Tokyo is vying for influence with Beijing, which has already committed massive investment.

The plan calls for Japan to cooperate with Laos in developing road and bridge infrastructure, developing public transport for the capital, Vientiane, and continuing joint work on developing its international airport.

It provides for enhancing education and job training, promoting public-private dialogue and funding small and midsize enterprises, and includes measures for Japan and Laos to cooperate in boosting Laotian government revenue and formulate legislation required to promote the rule of law.

According to the Japanese official who briefed reporters, Thongloun told Abe that Laos is carrying out legal reform to encourage more Japanese firms to invest directly in Laos, saying Japanese investment will invite investment from other countries in turn.

Laos, which is chairing the meetings of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations ending Thursday, is the only landlocked nation in ASEAN. The 10-member bloc has had difficulty reaching a consensus on an international tribunal ruling in July that dismissed China’s territorial claims to much of the South China Sea.

According to the Japanese official, the leaders agreed to strengthen their cooperation toward the peaceful resolution of disputes in the South China Sea, having exchanged opinions on the importance of the rule of law.

During their roughly 40-minute meeting, the leaders also exchanged opinions on North Korea, which has recently test-fired several ballistic missiles.

Abe said more pressure should be put on North Korea in light of its repeated provocative acts, calling for the stringent enforcement of U.N. Security Council resolutions and the formulation of new ones.

Thongloun responded that concerning North Korea, Laos supports the realization of peace and opposes the escalation of militarization, the official said.

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