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AseanAffairs Magazine July - August 2010
CONTENT • BEYOND ASEAN 
• ASEAN BAZAAR • ASEAN TALK
ASEAN AVIATION • INSIDE OUT
• ASEAN MONEY • OPINION
• ASEAN TRAVELLER • INDIA IN SPOTLIGHT

New Philippines President Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino wins in a landslide election and promises to end poverty and fight corruption.

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WHAT’S UP WITH LAOS?



Suddenly, the landlocked nation of Laos is apparently getting smothered with attention from the United States. On June 28, the White House took advantage of a routine diplomatic event, the presentation of a new envoy’s credentials to do a full-blown press release. The new ambassador was Seng Soukhathivong of Laos and he was photographed with the president in the Oval Office.
Laos, with a population of about 7 million, came under the domination of Siam (Thailand) from the late 18th century until the late 19th century when it became part of French Indochina. The Communist Pathet Lao assumed control of the country in 1975 and was aligned with Vietnam. The country began a gradual return to private enterprise and became a member of Asean in 1997.

The Obama administration is putting more emphasis on Southeast Asia, as it feels that the area was neglected by the previous Bush administration due to its involvement in the Middle East.

The U.S. moves are apparently to counter China’s latest efforts to improve relations with Laos. China’s Vice President and heir apparent Xi Jinping visited Laos in June with a pledge to invest in the country’s infrastructure to expedite travel between China and Thailand, the latter being Southeast Asia’s commercial hub.

....

BULLET TRAIN GOES NOWHERE IN VIETNAM 

In the its first rejection of a government proposal, in June, the national assembly rejected the government’s plan to establish a bullet train from the nation’s capital, Hanoi, to the country’s commercial center, Ho Chi Min City, formerly Saigon. The 975-mile route presently takes 30 hours, but the bullet train would have cut that to six.

The major reason the bullet train proposal failed was cost. The project would have consumed about 50 percent of Vietnam’s gross domestic project.

The bullet train rejection points out the difficulties that Vietnam and smaller countries face in getting capital for infrastructure. They must look for help from developed countries, but as the world recovers from the economic meltdown, those funds have diminished.
Benefits to tourism were often cited by the bullet train’s backers as the rationale for constructing it. That argument was counterbalanced by the fact that if built, most Vietnamese could not afford to buy tickets for the train.

The bullet train episode also points out the fragility of Vietnam’s economy, with the growth rate in 2009 two to three points lower than in the 2008 and 2007.

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