The Leaderboard profiles the people behind the policies of the Asia-Pacific. This post features H.E. Bounkeut Sangsomsak Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Lao People’s Democratic Republic.
Who is he?
Bounkeut Sangsomsak has been vice minister of foreign affairs of Laos since 2001and has served in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs for more than three decades. Early in his diplomatic career, he was a member of the Lao Permanent Mission to the United Nations and chargé d’affaires to the United States. He has served as Lao ambassador to Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, and the Philippines. He was educated at the prestigious University of Sorbonne in Paris, France, and is married with five children.
Why is he in the news?
Bounkeut is visiting Washington this week to participate in the Fourth U.S.-Laos Comprehensive Bilateral Dialogue June 27. He will hold talks with Assistant Secretary of State Kurt Campbell and U.S. government agencies. As part of its effort to engage all members of ASEAN, the Obama administration has in recent years exchanged high-level visits with the Lao government. Washington seeks further to cement ties with Laos ahead of its upcoming chairmanship of ASEAN in 2016.
What can we expect from him?
First, Bounkeut will use the visit to try to ensure Laos’ strategic balance in regional affairs. Improving U.S.-Laos relations in recent years have provided Laos with more political leeway vis-à-vis China, its biggest aid donor, and a smoother relationship with Vietnam, its main patron in the region.
Second, as Laos is preparing to join the World Trade Organization (WTO), the visit is an ideal opportunity for Bounkeut to discuss issues of technical assistance and economic and trade cooperation with senior U.S. officials.
Third, the U.S.-sponsored Lower Mekong Initiative is likely to feature highly on the agenda, particularly as Laos is looking to resume construction of the controversial Xayaburi dam as soon as possible. Construction is suspended pending a feasibility study demanded by Laos’ neighbors who fear the loss of water downstream from the dam.
Fourth, the United States will seek to increase access to remote areas for its recovery teams seeking to find the remains of servicemen missing from the earlier Vietnam war in the region.