President Barack Obama has concluded his trip to Laos, the first time a sitting U.S. president has visited the Southeast Asian nation.
In a speech to the Lao people, Mr. Obama noted that in the past the relationship between Laos and the United States was burdened by conflict. The United States dropped more than two million tons of bombs on Laos in an attempt to block supplies to the North Vietnamese Communist forces during the Vietnam War. Thousands of Lao have been killed or wounded by unexploded ordnance since the war ended. Mr. Obama announced that the United States would double its funding to $90 million over three years to help Laos clear the unexploded ordnance.
“Given our history here, I believe that the United States has a moral obligation to help Laos heal,” he said.
President Obama also spoke of strengthening the relationship between Laos and the United States with an eye to the future. He said the U.S. wanted to partner with the Lao people in areas including nutrition, education, trade and commerce, and the pursuit of clean energy.
Mr. Obama linked his visit and the deepening U.S.-Laos ties to his broader agenda of engagement with the nations and people of the Asia Pacific region, a region that is home to half of humanity and destined to become even more important in the century ahead. He noted the strengthening of U.S. defense collaboration with Japan, the Republic of Korea, and Australia, as well as the expanded U.S. engagement with emerging economies and powers, such as Indonesia and Malaysia, in promoting entrepreneurship, opposing violent extremism, and addressing environmental degradation.
President Obama also emphasized the U.S. role in standing with citizens on behalf of democracy and human rights. “Nations are stronger and more successful when they uphold human rights,” he said. “They are the birthright of every human being. And we know that democracy can flourish in Asia because we’ve seen it thrive from Japan and South Korea to Taiwan.
“This is the partnership that America offers here in Laos and across the Asia Pacific,” President Obama said. “Respect for your sovereignty. Security and peace through cooperation. Investment in children’s health. Education for students. Support for entrepreneurs. Development and trade. A commitment to the rights and dignity that is borne out of our common humanity. This is our vision. This is the future we can realize together.”