Many people in Laos heaved a sigh of relief – perhaps also in Cambodia – after Prime Minister Thongloun Sisoulith and his Cambodian counterpart Hun Sen agreed on Saturday to ease tensions along the border between the two countries and to strive to normalise the situation through peaceful means.
Just a day earlier, on Friday afternoon, foreign media had reported that there was growing tension along the border between Laos’ Attapeu province and Cambodia’s Stung Treng province.
The reports triggered public concern, with many in Laos expressing fears that the situation could escalate.
Fortunately, the leaders of the two countries made the quick and wise decision to ease the tensions – and their efforts were successful.
Just hours after the media reports emerged, Hun Sen flew to Vientiane and held talks with Thongloun.
As a result, both sides agreed to withdraw troops from the area where differences had triggered tensions, and pledged to take all possible steps in a peaceful manner through negotiations to address the issue.
In a joint news conference held shortly after their meeting at the prime minister’s office, the two leaders made it clear that both countries treasured their long-standing traditional relations and cooperation. Thus, the leaders pressed the need to resolve the issue through negotiations and to avoid confrontation.
After the outcome of the meeting was made public, the Lao people praised the move, reflecting the value they attach to good relations with the Cambodian people.
Meanwhile, my Cambodian friends told me that the Cambodian people, too, are happy with the decision of the leaders to pursue a peaceful resolution.
“The solidarity of the three Indochinese nations against foreign colonialism, which deepened during and since the Indochina war, remains strong.” This was the view of some Lao people as they welcomed the successful outcome of the meeting of the prime ministers. They referred to the deepening solidarity of the Lao, Cambodian and Vietnamese peoples, especially since they fought shoulder-to-shoulder during the Indochina war to protect their nations from foreign aggressors.
Laos and Cambodia have enjoyed the status of good neighbours since the eras of the Khmer Kingdom and the Lan Xang Kingdom (now the Lao PDR), and the Indochina war brought the two peoples even closer together.
During the current era of national construction and development, Laos and Cambodia have continued to enhance their relations and expanded cooperation in a wide range of areas, including socio-economic development, education, culture, tourism and politics. Mutual assistance in different fields has expanded rapidly.
Last year, Laos welcomed 16,536 Cambodian tourists, while more and more Lao people are now taking a holiday in the neighbouring country.
Two-way trade between the two Asean members exceeded US$30 million (Bt998 million) in 2016.
Support for each other
As the two countries speed up their socio-economic development, which is poised to gain faster momentum in the years to come, they expect to derive more benefits from their cooperation – both through bilateral and multilateral frameworks.
Politically, the leaders of the two countries have maintained regular contact and exchanges of visits.
Having been friendly neighbours for a long time, Laos and Cambodia have also extended support to each other in the regional and international arenas.
Without a doubt, all these factors have brought great benefits to the Lao and Cambodian peoples and both sides are well aware of these.
On several occasions, the leaders of the two countries have expressed the view that they highly value the traditional friendly relations and cooperation.
For all these reasons, the shared interests of Laos and Cambodia far outweigh all other factors, and both countries should not allow any issue to undermine their shared interests.