Lao PDR is marked in green in the ASEAN map. – Wikipedia

Beginning January 2016, Lao People’s Democratic Republic (PDR) took over the ASEAN chairmanship from 2015 chair, Malaysia. More popularly referred to as Laos, the nation last chaired the regional bloc in 2004.

In recent years, Laos has been regarded as one the fastest growing economies in ASEAN, clocking an annual average growth of 7 per cent on the back of natural resources, increasing tourism and rising infrastructure construction.

At the chairmanship handover last November, then-Laos Prime Minister Thongsing Thammavong said, “As chair of ASEAN in 2016, Laos will continue to work closely with its ASEAN family members and external partners with an objective of further advancing community-building process for a dynamic and prosperous ASEAN Community, while contributing to the common cause in maintaining and promoting peace, stability and development in the region and the world at large as well as to the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals recently adopted by world leaders”.

In February, the country held the first retreat for the region’s Foreign Ministers in its capital, Vientiane, on the east bank of the Mekong River.

It was reported that the foreign ministers discussed the implementation of the ASEAN Community Vision 2025 and exchanged views on external relations, as well as on regional and international issues.

The ASEAN Community Vision 2025 originated from the summit held in 2013. According to the bloc’s website, the vision spells out developing a politically cohesive, economically integrated, socially responsible, and a truly people-oriented, people-centered and rules-based ASEAN.

Another issue of increasing concern discussed at the retreat was the South China Sea dispute.

Later in the year, Laos will hold the ASEAN and East Asia Summits in September – earlier than usual, taking into account the United States’ presidential election in November. US President Barack Obama is expected to attend the summit.

A member state assuming the chairmanship shall also chair related summits, the ASEAN Coordinating Council, the three ASEAN Community Councils, relevant ASEAN Sectoral Ministerial Bodies and senior officials, and the Committee of Permanent Representatives.

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