By Publisher Lee Kyung-sik with Editors Kevin Lee, Joy Cho, Y.M. Kim
President Moon Jae-in said, “I am so grateful to His Excellency Prime Minister Thongloun Sisoulith of the Lao People’s Democratic Republic(LPDR) for his special interest in my country and people, including his visit to Korea many times and third time even to his Busan City.” President Moon made the remarks at his summit meeting with Prime Minister Sisoulith in Busan on Nov. 26 last year.
These traditional friendly feelings shared by the leaders and peoples of the two countries were fully exemplified by Ambassador Theing Boupha of the LPDR in Seoul at a recent interview with The Korea Post media, publisher of 3 English and 2 Korean news publications since 1985.
December this year is a special month for Korea and Laos—the latter celebrating the 45th anniversary of Proclamation of the Lao PDR and the two friendly countries marking the 25th anniversary of diplomatic relations established between them.
At the interview, Ambassador Boupha said: “I express my heartfelt congratulations to the Governments of the Lao People’s Democratic Republic and the Republic of Korea and both Lao-Korea people for the great success and achievement in the implementation of the National Socio-Economic Development Plan, the strengthening of good relations, and cooperation between our two countries.”
Cooperation between the two countries to grow by leaps and bounds especially thanks to the unreserved efforts made by the successive ambassadors of the LPDR in Seoul such as Ambassador Boupha.
Contribution on the part of the non-government, private sector is very important for the promotion of bilateral cooperation in the public, social economic and various other fields. Among such organizations are the Booyoung Group, Booyoung-Lao Bank, Korean Western Power, SK E&C, Kia Motors, Hyundai Motors, Samsung Group, LG Group, Jin Air, and Jeju Air.
Also, actively contributing to the promotion of cooperation are the Korean Honorary Consuls in Busan, Daejeon, Uijeongbu, and there also are the Korea-Lao Friendship Association in Seoul and Daegu, Lao Cultural Center in Daegu, Lao-Korea Exchange Association in Daegu, and Lao-Korea Exchange Foundation in Seoul.
Among many Koreans, Laos is known as a country of ‘Clean People’ and ‘Clean Land’ and also as a ‘Land of Health Promotion and Healing.’ Among many Koreans, especially the young generation, Laos is known as a ‘Paradise of FIDs(Free Individual Travelers) who include the so-called Baebang Yeohangja(backpackers), which means that the people in the country are generous, well-meaning kind and helpful to foreigners.
According to Korean foreign ministry and various other sources, most Koreans visiting Laos bring back home an impression of ‘warmth, kindness and friendliness on the part of the local people due to the Buddhist belief and culture as well as the inherent kindness and helpfulness ingrained in the national traits of the Laotian people.
At the same time, the LPDR is also known as a dynamic country with plentiful natural resources although the country is only 1.1 times the size of the entire Korean peninsula. Thanks to the sufficient hydroelectric power plants, plentiful mineral resources and fast-growing tourist and other services-oriented industries, the LPDR has been making an annual economic growth of six percent a year.
Currently, the LPDR is known to be actively and energetically pushing forward with the implementation with her 8th Five-year National, Social and Economic Development Plan.
The ROK and the LPDR established their diplomatic relations in December 2011 and since then the two countries have been making great developments in their relations and cooperation in various fields, including political, economic, social and cultural spheres.
In particular, the two countries opened their direct flight service in December 2011, which drastically boosted the number of travelers between the two countries. Last year(2019) alone, a total of more than 200,000 Koreans visited Laos, according to reports.
Details of the interview follow:
Question: Please introduce your National Day in full detail.
Answer: First of all, let me express my gratitude to The Korea Post Media for allowing me the opportunity to share with you some information about my country. Laos the full name is the Lao People’s Democratic Republic, is one of many countries that has a long history in struggle against foreign invasion, the old and new colonialism occupation for the liberty, freedom and independence, establishment of the Lao People’s Democratic Republic in December 02, 1975, this year marks the 45th. Anniversary of the Foundation of the Lao PDR and also the 25th. Anniversary of Diplomatic Relations between Lao PDR and Republic of Korea. I would like to take this opportunity to express my heartfelt congratulations to the Government of the Lao PDR and the Republic of Korea and both Lao-Korea people for the meaningful Occasion, the great success and achievement in the implementation of the National Socio - Economic Development Plan, the strengthening of good relations, and cooperation between our two countries.
December 02, 1975 is the Proclamation Day of the Lao PDR, it is a milestone victory for the Government and Lao people after a long history of fighting against enemies for independence. From 1893 Laos has been in French protectorate, was briefly occupied by Japanese towards the end of the Second World War, and in 1953 independence restored after the end of French rule, from 1954-1975 Indochina war with USA and proclamation of the country.
The Lao People’s Democratic Republic is a State occurred by the result of long struggle of the Lao people multiethnic, is that is of the people, by the people and for the people. December 02 is the important day for the Party, Government and the Lao People; is the day of Great victory from the long history of struggle; is the day that the country and Lao people multiethnic have liberty and full independence; and is the day of transition to the new era, in building the country of peace, independence, democracy, unity and prosperity.
Q: Please introduce the Head of the Government of your esteemed country in detail, including major achievement.
A: The Head of the State is the President, which is elected by the National Assembly with two-thirds of the votes of all Members attending the Session. The term of his office is 5 years, which is the same as the term of National Assembly. H.E President Bounnhang Vorachit effective in April 2016 through election by the 149 members legislature of National Assembly. The Government is an Executive Organization of the State powers. The Head of the Government is the Prime – Minister, who is appointed by the President of the Republic after the approval of National Assembly. The National Assembly elected H.E. Thongloun Sisoulith as Prime-Minister in April 2016 and also the term of Government is 5 years.
Under the leadership of the Government. The main target is that Lao PDR continues to enjoy firm political stability, social order, security. Before Covid-19 pandemic, economy had continued steady to grow with GDP increased rate of 6,5% per year. The living condition of the people had also gradually improved. However, the country is still facing obstacles and challenges from the natural disasters that become barriers to the path toward graduation from the least developed country status. The Government had adopted the 10-year Strategic Development Plan for 2016-2025, the vision 2030 and the 8th NSEDP for 2016-2020, with a view to graduating from LDC status by 2024, to become a self-reliant and an upper-middle income country by 2030, on the whole is to constantly enhance and up-lift the living conditions for all the multi-ethnic Lao people.
Q: Nowadays, economic cooperation is very important between the countries. Who are the major Korean companies actively engaged in bilateral economic cooperation? Please introduce them in detail in the order of size and scale of business activities.
A: I highly value and appreciate the great success, the fruitful outcome of the ASEAN-ROK Summit to mark the 30th Anniversary of Dialogue Relations between ASEAN- ROK and also the 1st Mekong-ROK Summit in November 2019 in Busan, in which ASEAN reiterated the commitment to support for enhancement of trade, investment, promote the partnership of SME, Startup between ASEAN and ROK through human resources development and enhance people to people exchange, strengthening technical and vocational education and training programs.
Currently, we can see that, ASEAN – ROK partnership is crucial than ever, before Covid-19 pandemic in 2019, trade increased more than 20 folds since the establishment of ASEAN-ROK relations 30 years ago and the exchanges of human resources and humanitarian aids in times of natural disaster have also risen. The Mekong-ROK cooperation has upgraded such as in the field of infrastructure, ICT, green growth, water resource development, rural development and human resources development.
Laos fully supports an initiative on New Southern Policy, declared by the President of the Republic of Korea H.E Moon Jae-In during his trip to Southeast Asia in 2017, President Moo has completed his tour in Southeast Asia and his last visit has been in 2019 to Laos, Myanmar and Thailand. During his visit to Laos, two sides have signed some documents on cooperation such as in the field of agriculture, ICT, startups and innovation and financial cooperation. Meanwhile, when H.E Thongloun Sisoulith, Prime-Minister of the Lao PDR visited Korea and attended the ASEAN-ROK Commemorative Summit and the 1st Mekong-ROK summit in Busan, two sides have signed documents on cooperation in the field of technical and vocational education and training, the intellectual property and development of the port management information system. Regarding the big Korean companies in Laos, in the present time, there are Booyoung Group company establishing Booyoung-Lao Bank, golf club, hotel and others, Kolao Group company importing automobile, electronic-furniture products, providing financial services, construction etc., Korean Western Power, SK Engineering and Construction Company contributing to hydropower dams development and other Korean companies.
Ties between Laos and Republic of Korea have been growing, there is more potential for two sides to broaden economic cooperation. We have good political relations and supported each other in the regional and international arenas. The cooperation in the field of trade, investment, education, tourism and culture have been increased step by step every year after two sides established diplomatic relations in 1995. Currently, the contribution of Korean investment into Laos ranks a 5th. Among the largest FDI countries, with a total capital in 2018 of about 270 million with 39 projects, but from 2010-2018 data reached 750 million USD covering 257 projects.
Q: What is the present volume of bilateral trade, its outlook in the next 12 months?
A: Based on the data from tradmap.org, bilateral trade between Lao PDR and ROK in 2019 was 114 million USD; this amount remains synonymous with the previous year’s figures. Export from Laos to Korea amounted to 39 million USD, import from Korea amounted to 75 million USD, and from 5 years (2016-2020) trade volume reached 324 million USD. Besides, in the 3 quarters of 2020, two countries have a small number of products trading with a value of 40 million USD, this might be an impact from the pandemic situation. However, in the next 12 months, the post-Covid-19 Era, we would like to promote our bilateral trade, to elevate the capacity of export from Laos on agricultural products such as coffee, rice, tropical fruits, vegetable, wood charcoal, wood, copper, etc.
Q: What are the areas in your country where you want Korean companies to invest and what are the areas where you wish your businessmen to invest in Korea?
A: As we known, Laos is rich of natural resource such as forest, rivers, gold, silver, copper, lead, manganese etc. However, so far, Lao people are still living with unexploded bomb since the end of Indochina war, UXO affected the daily life of the people and development. Laos still is the least developed country (LDC), Laos considers poverty reduction as the top priority with an aim to graduating from LDC status, meanwhile the Lao Government also supports green and renewable energy, we would like to invite Korean companies to invest in Laos in the areas of energy, mining, infrastructure, agriculture, ICT, environment, education and healthcare and also if it is possible, we would like Lao businessmen to invest in Korea in the area of SMEs service such as Lao food restaurant, massage, sauna and other small business.
Q: What are your competitive products and/over services attractive to Korea? Who are the companies of your country exporting your products to Korea?
A: There are various types of products in the Lao market that are serving both local and international consumers and are mostly related to agricultural products. Even though more than 70 percent of employment of the population is engaging in the agricultural sector, its qualities and productivity are very low with high vulnerability. To improve these issues in the long-term aspect, the government of Laos is promoting the branding Laos “Made in Laos” to create competitive advantages products; Several Lao products will be helped to capitalize this overall Lao competitive advantage through their superior characteristics to other products in the eyes of international consumers.
Several products possibilities could include tea, rice, coffee, spices, pepper, fruit, wooden furniture, silk, and clothing-among others. With the most appropriate product development, existing or new branding, and a specialized sales structure, producers and enterprises will market those products to international consumers at premium prices and with much higher profit margins. All of this will be marketed under the ‘Lao brand’, an exceptional presentation featuring and also reinforcing the unique Lao culture with a credible, sustainable, and ethical appeal to wealthy but ethically-minded consumers.
Bilateral trade cooperation between Lao PDR and the Republic of Korea started many decades ago. Various types of goods have been shifted on and off regularly with a massive amount slightly increase every year. At the Lao side, the National Chamber of Commerce and Industry and Department of Import and Export, Ministry of Industry and Commerce of the Laos PDR, has served as the main role in dealing with import and export companies in Laos.
Q: What are the Korean products and services that your country might wish to import?
A: Recently, Korean products and services gaining more popularity among ASEAN Community, Laos is one of them that has been hit by the “Korean Wave”. Thanks to an active broadcasting system cooperation between two countries, this meaningful collaboration has widened Lao citizen’s eyes on the culture, tourism, and products of Korea.
Though some existing Korean brands occupied the main portion of local customer’s satisfaction like Kia, Hyundai, Samsung, and LG, local customers are also seeking other products related to the health and beauty sector, for instance, Korea cosmetic, healthy food and drink, and plastic surgery facilities.
Moreover, as the number of Korean vehicles is increasing nowadays, particularly in the metropolitan city, it seems to be the spare parts are inadequate compared to the demand locally. The supplier is not able to deliver to the customers at a time. There have been long waiting lists, sometimes taking almost 3 or 6 months, and the price is costly than expected. Therefore, the competitiveness of this kind of product is needed in the local market. It is going to enhancing the opportunities for other small businesses rather than monopolized by only a big company and creates more options for local customers.
Q: Korean people, especially the up and coming Korean businessmen need rest and recuperation, what are your tourist attractions?
A: Laos is the multi-ethnic country with the long history of culture, custom and tradition, so that the Government of the Lao PDR focuses on tourism industry as one of the main sources of income. In the last two years, before Covid-19 pandemic, Laos has received nearly 5 million tourists per year from Asia, Europe and America that generate the revenue over 1000 million USD. Laos has 3 UNESCO World heritage sites such as the Ancient City Luang Prabang, the Wat Phou Champasack Temple and the Mysterious Pain of Jars in Xiengkhuang Province.
These are the significant Archaeological, historical and natural values. Additionally, Laos has so many cultural, historical and natural tourist sites such as natural water falls, caves, mountain and forest. Before Covid-19, there are nearly 200,000 Korean tourists visited Laos, meanwhile more than 12.000 Lao people visited Korea, and this could happen, thanks to Lao Government’s 15 days visa exemption for Korean people. This policy was introduced in 2008. Moreover, visa exemption has been extended to 30 days in 2018. This can be one of incentives from the government of Laos aims to open more for Korean people to visit and setup the business in the Lao PDR.
Q: What are the most important festive days in your country? Please elaborate.
A: Laos celebrates many traditional festivals; the majorities of the festivals are based on the Buddhist religion and follow the seasonal rice farming cycle. I would like to introduce only 3 most festive ones: firstly, is the Lao New Year or Pi Mai Lao is celebrated in the middle of April, before starting of rainy season. Pi Mai Lao seems to be simply a huge water fighting, water is used in cleansing and blessing ceremonies to wash away any past misdeeds or bad luck in order to pave the way for a healthy, prosperous new year.
The Lao people celebrate in three distinct days, the first day being the last day of the old year, the people wash their house, cleans the Buddha with sacred water and pour the perfumed water to each other means wishing for good health happiness, cleanse bad luck and bring good luck for the New Year, second day is the day of no day means not old year not new year, this a day for families to visit the temple, the third day is the last of Pi Mai marks the beginning of the year. It is a day for families to be together and will perform the offering of food to monks or Takbat and organize Baci Ceremonies to receive blessing.
Secondly, Boun Ock Phansa is celebrated in October as the end of Buddhist lent festival. This festival is celebrated with boat racing. The boat racing means to respect the naga in the river and the Lao people come back into the Mekong after the hard work time in the rice farm of the year.
Lastly, Boun That Luang or That Luang festival takes place every November over three days around the full moon. That Luang is the name of stupa located in the center of Vientiane Capital, is the national symbol of Laos. In these days thousands of pilgrims gather at That Luang to give offering food to the monks, who come from all over Laos, follow with the trade pavilions and agricultural production Exhibitions.
Q: Do you have honorary Consuls in Korea? If yes, how are they contributing to the Promotion of cooperation and friendship between the two countries?
A: Currently in Republic of Korea, we have some platforms to help Embassy in promoting the socio-cultural cooperation between Laos and Korea such as ASEAN Cultural House in Busan(ACH), ASEAN-Korea Center(AKC) in Seoul, Lao Honorary Consuls base in Busan, Daejeon and Uijeongbu Cities. Furthermore, we have Korea-Lao Friendship Association in Seoul and Daegu(KLFA), Lao cultural Center in Daegu, Lao-Korea Exchange Association in Daegu, Lao-Korea Exchange Foundation in Seoul, Lao-Korean Parliamentary Friendship Group. Those concerned organizations have actively contributed for enhancing our cultural cooperation between our two nations.
In the past years, various cultural exchanges held in Korea, including Easy Access to Laos, Seoul Friendship Fair, and Seoul Friendship Festival; recently the ASEAN Week, ASEAN food exhibition, ASEAN fashion Show, ASEAN cultural performance organized these events by AKC and ASEAN Embassies on the Occasion of ASEAN-ROK Summit to mark the 30th anniversary of Dialogue relations have been done with remarkable successes.
Q: Your Excellency as the ambassador of your esteemed country performs the important role of a bridge between the two countries. And the Government, business and various other circles in Korea wish to learn more about Your Excellency. Please introduce yourself in detail, including your career, family and hobbies.
A: I arrived Korea and presented my credential letter to the President of the Republic of Korea, H.E Moon Jae -In last year (2019). It is my first time, first mission in Korea since I have never been here before. It is my great honor and privilege to be posted as Lao Ambassador to the Republic of Korea, I am very proud to be a part of all one’s efforts in pushing forward our longstanding relations and cooperation between our two countries and nations. Thank you very much for the endless support made by the Government and Korean people.
In Korea, I have a great opportunity to meet and work with Governmental, intergovernmental organizations, private companies, various social foundations, associations, and honored persons for sharing knowledges, skills, experiences, and exchange information on possibility for upgrading of the bilateral cooperation between our two countries. Laos is the country of harmony with the long history of culture, custom and tradition and rich natural resource. So that it is a great potential to promote investment, trade and tourism. In the short period of time of my presence in Korea, I have learned that Korea is very beautiful with highly developed infrastructure, high technology country in East Asia, with full potentials to push the growth of the economy, if I am not mistaken, long time ago, Korea started as an agriculture based economy in 1960, it is a good role model for Laos to transform the national development by relying on agricultural sector as major role in Laos’s economy since it launched New Economic Reform in 1986. In addition, various things I have learned from Korea experiences that will be contributed to the overall success of social-economic development of the Lao PDR.
If we are talking about family, I have two children: a son and a daughter, my spouse stays with me in Korea. However, my son is currently studying for Master Degree on economy in Russian Federation, because before coming to Korea, I had an opportunity to serve as a Lao Ambassador to Russian Federation, I left my son to continue his study when I finished my mission. My daughter is studying for Bachelor on economy and business management in Laos. Due to Covid -19 Pandemic, we are separately living. My hobby is fishing, in Laos, normally I always enjoy fishing on the weekend.
Q: Please add whatever other details that your Excellency might consider to be important.
A: It can be seen that people to people exchange plays an important role in fostering ties and promoting better cultural understanding among people of our two countries. I have learned that in the past time, various cultural events have been reciprocally exchanged between Laos and Korea, Lao cultural performance, Lao fashion show, and Lao food exhibition in Korea, Korea week, Korea food, Korean movie show, taekwondo tournament, K-pop festival and other cultural performance in Laos. This is a great opportunity for both young generations to learn and understand more about cultural of both sides.
Additionally, it is possible to consider more the cooperation in the field of human resource development on education and healthcare through strengthening technical and vocational programs. So far, we have around 100 Lao students, fellows, and trainees in different Institutes and Universities in Korea. Furthermore, around 600 Lao people working and living in Korea. On the other hand, about 4000 Korean people working and living in Laos.
I would like to share with you some news on flight between Laos and Korea, normally there are 4 direct commercial flights per day, including Lao Airline, Jin Air, T’Way and Jeju Air. However, in this year during Covid-19 pandemic, those flights have been suspended temporarily. Currently, due to Covid-19 outbreak in the Worldwide, the Government of Laos and Korea still have inserted their joint effort to maintain mutual exchanges between their people, two sides have agreed to run charter flights in order to open chance for students, businessmen, experts, diplomats and international organization officials to complete their career and continually contribute the people to people exchange during the unprecedented time.