In recent months several cables have appeared in the Wikileaks files from the US Embassy in Vientiane. They offer little insight into the upper-level workings of the Lao party-state, as one might hope (but hardly expect). But there are other points of interest.
One cable, an assessment of Asian Development Bank’s Country Strategy and Program (2006), offers a stinging rebuke of bilateral and multilateral donors in Laos, particularly their failure to leverage reform in areas of governance. The criticisms (both of Lao governance and foreign aid) are familiar but the frankness is unusual, as the final “comment” makes clear:
It is a great pity that a half-century of aid and the GoL’s manifest dependence on it has not been translated into leverage for reform. This has not happened because neither the Japanese (the largest bilateral donor), nor ADB (the largest multilateral) have a sense of what such a fulcrum might be used for. Now that ADB is claiming to be re-thinking development priorities, those priorities should be reversed.
Two more cables deal with issues relating to the Hmong-American community. One of these, reported fairly widely in the US, describes the positive impact of Vang Pao’s 2007 arrest on Laos-US relations. Not only was the Lao government pleasantly surprised by the arrest, it seems, but so was the US embassy by the Lao government’s positive response to it. Perhaps this laid foundations for Deputy PM and Foreign Minister Thongloun Sisoulist’s unprecedented visit to Washington last year?
The second of these cables reports a speaking visit to Vientiane in 2008 by Blong Xiong, the Lao-Hmong president of Fresno City Council, and is also upbeat in tone. While the Americans had suggested “anodyne” speaking topics designed not to cause offence, Lao Ministry of Foreign Affairs officials surprised them by requesting a lecture on the more sensitive issue of “the role of overseas Lao [also referred to in the cable as “overseas Hmong”] in strengthening bilateral relations”. Xiong also had two “extremely positive” meetings with MFA officials, including the ethnic-Hmong head of the Overseas Lao department. Interestingly, in the latter meeting he spoke a mix of Lao (for the official bits) and Hmong (non-official parts), perhaps capturing the pragmatic basis of the visit and a more general moving on from past tensions.[Image source]