VIENTIANE — The prime minister of communist Laos assured U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry on Monday that this small nation will help counter China’s assertiveness in the South China Sea.
Laos this year takes the rotating chairmanship of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, with the group’s heads of state scheduled to hold a special meeting next month in Sunnylands, California, at the invitation of President Barack Obama as part of his foreign policy to reach out to the region as a counterweight to China.
Kerry’s visit to the landlocked nation of fewer than 7 million people was meant to pave the way for the summit, with a goal of making sure Laos holds the group. Kerry arrived in the Laotian capital Sunday.
Prime Minister Thongsing Thammavong “was very clear that he wants a unified ASEAN and he wants maritime rights protected and he wants to avoid militarization and avoid the conflict,” Kerry told reporters. “And that will develop as we go into Sunnylands, and there will be a greater, I’m sure, articulation of that unity going forward.”
ASEAN nations such as Vietnam and the Philippines have become increasingly concerned with China’s territorial claims in the South China Sea, including the construction of man-made islands and airstrips in contested areas.
But other ASEAN nations are more pro-China, including Cambodia, which blocked ASEAN from reaching consensus on the South China Sea during its 2012 chairmanship of the group. Cambodia is Kerry’s next stop on an around the world diplomatic marathon this week that will also take him to China.
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