Laos Table of Contents
The international governmental orgganizations active in Laos constitute a distinguished list, and, in a sense, Laos has become one of their star pupils. The World Bank (see Glossary), IMF, UNDP, and Asian Development Bank (see Glossary) work closely with the small coterie of economic planners within Laos and can point to notable economic progress in the 1990s as a result of the application of their advice. The national currency, the kip, has remained stable at its official rate since 1990, foreign reserves have grown, and inflation has fallen dramatically. The party leadership undertook tough measures such as reducing government employment, encouraging privatization, and ending special subsidies, in line with advice from international advisers. The resident IMF representative received private telephone calls from the president in search of economic counsel. In the early 1990s, an unusual level of satisfaction with the Laotian leadership's willingness to receive economic advice from experts could be found among international governmental organizations' personnel in Laos.
In 1990 the UNDP coordinated approximately US$12.3 million in economic assistance from various UN financial and development agencies, and thirteen international governmental organizations disbursed approximately US$4.1 million (see Foreign Aid , ch. 3). The most active among these were the UNHCR, the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF--see Glossary), the UN Drug Control Program, and the Food and Agriculture Organization. In March 1992, the Laos Roundtable for bilateral aid and pledges recorded approximately US$472 million in project aid from international governmental organizations. In 1992 and 1993 the Asian Development Bank was funding such projects as road construction, hydropower, and water supply.
Nongovernmental organizations have tried to make an impact on Laos, particularly in the lives of villagers outside the privileged Mekong Valley towns adjacent to prospering Thailand. Twenty-two such organizations disbursed approximately US$3.259 million in 1990, with the American Friends Service Committee (Quakers) and the Mennonite Central Committee (Mennonites) contributing approximately 15 percent and 10 percent of the total, respectively, and concentrating on health and agricultural programs. From 1990 to 1993, the American Friends Service Committee budgeted slightly more than US$2.3 million for programs in Laos. These included smallscale irrigation and rice-based integrated farming system projects, women's development and veterinary vaccination programs, and emergency relief projects that include assisting internallydisplaced communities. The Mennonite Central Committee contributed approximately US$1.2 million during the 1990-93 period for programs in agriculture and integrated development, emergency assistance, education, health, and social services, economic and technical assistance, and "material resources in kind."
Constraints on foreign policy nonetheless remain in the ideological commitment pronounced since 1975 to the socialist road to social welfare, mapped out exclusively by the party. This theoretical baggage, however, has not precluded generous foreign aid from Australia, Japan, and Sweden, or attendance at conferences of the Nonaligned Movement (see Glossary). Obtaining observer status in ASEAN in 1992 also was constructive and points toward possible membership in that organization before the end of the century. But the punitive seminar camps and the unrecorded death of the sequestered former King Savang Vatthana have left a negative impression on democratic nations that Laos cannot afford to disregard or exacerbate as it seeks investors and donors among the capitalist states.
The possibility that a domineering neighbor might arise from the competing rivalries of the regional states seems unlikely in the mid-1990s, and a policy of maximizing the economic engagement of many states in Laos seems to suit the circumstances. It appears to be unrewarding for Thailand, Vietnam, or China to consider aligning with Laos and creating tension with their neighbors. A policy of gradually assimilating Laos into ASEAN and competing for its dormant and modest market is easier to foresee.
* * *
Few books dealing exclusively with contemporary Laos have been published since the establishment of the LPDR in 1975. Among those with political analyses are MacAlister Brown and Joseph J. Zasloff's Apprentice Revolutionaries: The Communist Movement in Laos, 1930-1985, which includes examinations of the LPDR's leadership and ruling party, political institutions and policies, economic policies and political doctrine, social politics, and external relations. A more recent volume is Laos: Beyond the Revolution, edited by Zasloff and Leonard Unger, which contains essays on politics, economics, society, external relations, and United States policy toward Laos. Two books written or edited by the Australian scholar Martin Stuart-Fox are also useful: Contemporary Laos: Studies in the Politics and Society of the Lao People's Democratic Republic has essays on various subjects by international experts, and Laos: Politics, Economics and Society provides a succinct, insightful account of the social, political, and economic systems of the country and its domestic and foreign policies.
For the reader who wishes information in English about politics in Laos since 1975, the following periodicals with occasional articles on Laos are helpful: Asian Survey, Current History, Southeast Asian Affairs, and Indochina Issues. The best journalistic coverage of Laos is found in the weekly Far Eastern Economic Review, and its annual Asia Yearbook. The United States government provides two valuable source of translations from the Lao media: the Foreign Broadcast Information Service's Daily Report: East Asia, and the Joint Publications Research Service's Report: East Asia/Southeast Asia. Summaries of important items on Laos appearing in these two publications are found in the quarterly Indochina Chronology. (For further information and complete citations, see Bibliography.)
Data as of July 1994
Laos Table of Contents