• Kyodo

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Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and his Laotian counterpart, Thongloun Sisolith, agreed Wednesday in Tokyo to flesh out the elements of a joint plan to conduct a wide range of development projects in Laos.

The leaders discussed concrete steps to implement the plan, which involves investment in transport, power generation and distribution, human resources, agriculture and public works.

They agreed on the plan at their meeting in Vientiane in September.

“I’m happy that we were able to decide on assistance for Laos in the fields of financial administration and water supply, and for young public-sector workers,” Abe told reporters after the leaders held their third bilateral talks since Thongloun took office in April last year.

“Through these various initiatives, as a strategic partner, Japan will give Laos a boost in getting out of the (United Nations) ‘least developed country’ category by 2020,” Abe said.

Laos is a target destination for the Abe administration’s push for “high quality” infrastructure investment in countries in the Asia-Pacific region, aimed at reaping both economic and strategic benefits.

Thongloun voiced appreciation for Japan’s contributions, adding that his government “wants to strengthen the environment for Japanese companies to invest in Laos.”

Thongloun said he and Abe affirmed their ongoing cooperation in bringing about direct flights between Vientiane and Tokyo.

He also hailed Japan’s commitment to working on roads and other infrastructure investment in the East-West Economic Corridor through the Mekong region to improve connectivity.

The land corridor project links Laos with Myanmar, Thailand and Vietnam. The Mekong region is also connected by a North-South corridor, into which China has put significant investment.

Abe said he and Thongloun had “a frank and meaningful exchange of views on urgent regional and international issues, including North Korea and the South China Sea,” and affirmed that they will work together on these issues ahead of Association of Southeast Asian Nations meetings this year.

“Laos is an important country that borders all the other countries in the Mekong region, and we will work together to maintain and strengthen a free and open international order based on the rule of law, including by fortifying regional coordination,” Abe said.

The Abe administration’s emphasis on the rule of law extends to voicing concern about the situation in the South China Sea, in which China has been reclaiming land and building military facilities to bolster its territorial claims.

Earlier in the day, Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida and his Laotian counterpart, Saleumxay Kommasith, discussed ongoing initiatives between the two countries.

Thongloun attended a conference on the future of Asia in Tokyo earlier in the week. He was scheduled to leave on Thursday.

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