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ASEAN ANALYSIS  10  August 2010

Laos on the move in hydropower

By David Swartzentruber
AseanAffairs   10 August 2010

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As most news-conscious readers know, every country is looking for more energy whether it comes from petroleum, hydro, coal, thermal, nuclear or alternative energy sources.

Thus, the news from landlocked Laos that is expediting the development of its hydro resources to the tune of opening two hydro plants a year for the next decade brings into focus one of the reasons that the country has been getting attention from China and the United States.

To continue its economic drive China has launched a worldwide search for more energy resources. such as coal from Australia, oil from Africa and right at its doorstep a landlocked country, Laos. A country with a small population, not much industry and a mountainous country with fast-flowing streams to put a lot of megawatts on, in Chinese eyes, the Chinese grid.

Given its beautiful and bucolic setting, one would doubt that Laos needed this much energy. However, income from the new power plants will certainly bolster the economy of this country of only 6.2 million.

The diplomatic thrust of the Obama administration is to counter what might be called the benign neglect that the previous administration gave to Southeast Asia, so the Americans have given the region a renewed focus.

Some of this focus was suggested by Asean foreign ministers meeting with Secretary of State Hilary Clinton earlier this year, who feel a bit uneasy sleeping next door to the sleeping Chinese giant and its huge army.

The recent offer of U.S. help in resolving the tensions in the South China Sea, an offer rejected by the Philippines new president Benigno Aquino III, was perhaps an overplayed hand by the U.S. However, it only underlines the renewed interest in the region being displayed by the Obama administration.

It’s for sure that there will be more stories coming from Southeast Asia along these lines as the China and the United State bob and weave for strategic position.

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