Park meets with Laotian president

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Park meets with Laotian president

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Laotian President Choummaly Sayasone, left, shakes hands with Korean President Park Geun-hye yesterday before their meeting at the Blue House in Seoul. [REUTERS/NEW1]

President Park Geun-hye met Laotian President Choummaly Sayasone yesterday at a summit in which they pledged to increase cooperation in political, economic and cultural affairs and step up human resources exchanges.

Choummaly has been in office since 2006 and is the first Laotian president to visit South Korea.

“[South Korea and Laos] are reliable friends who understand each other and support one another in East Asia as well as on the international stage,” Park said in an address at a luncheon after the summit.

She also thanked the 77-year-old Laotian president for “supporting Korea’s efforts toward peace and security in the Korean Peninsula and East Asia.”

The two country heads also had “constructive and valuable discussions on strengthening their cooperative relationship and practical cooperative measures,” Park continued. “Laos’ international status is rising following its success as the host of the ninth Asia-Europe Meeting last year and its membership in the World Trade Organization. I think it is a result of President Choummaly’s leadership and the patriotism of the Laotian people.”

In the past three years, Laos has maintained high economic growth, which hovers above 7 percent - the only Southeast Asian nation to maintain such a record amid the global economic downturn.

Bilateral trade volume has increased as much as 20 times since 1995, and Korea has gradually increased its investment in Laos. A direct route between Incheon and Vientiane launched in March last year has contributed to an increase in visitors from both countries. More than 50,000 Koreans visited Laos last year, according to the Blue House.

South Korea and Laos first forged diplomatic ties in 1974, but that relationship was severed the following year when Laos embraced Communism. They re-established ties in 1995, with Korea setting up an embassy in Laos in 1996.

A Communist country, Laos has also maintained a close relationship with North Korea.

In May, Laotian officials detained nine underage North Korean defectors who were attempting to make their way to South Korea. The Southeast Asian nation handed them over to North Korean agents, who later sent the defectors back to Pyongyang.

President Park is alleged to have asked her Laotian counterpart to support South Korea in its efforts to embrace defectors from the North.

So far, Park has met with leaders of eight out of the 10 countries that comprise the Association of Southeast Asian Nations. She has yet to hold summits with the heads of Malaysia and Cambodia.

BY SEO JI-EUN [spring@joongang.co.kr]

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