Celebrating Sixty Years of U.s.-Lao Diplomatic Relationsby Representative Betty McCollum
Posted on 2015-12-07
in the house of representatives
Monday, December 7, 2015
Ms. McCOLLUM. Mr. Speaker, on December 4th I had the pleasure of
attending at the invitation of Ambassador Mai Sayavongs a celebration
of both the sixtieth anniversary of diplomatic relations between Laos
and the United States and the fortieth anniversary of the founding of
the Lao People's Democratic Republic. The event was well attended by
ASEAN ambassadors and key U.S. officials including Mr. Ben Rhodes from
the White House and Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and
Pacific Affairs, Daniel Russel.
Over the course of these six decades there have been many difficult passages in the bilateral relationship. Today, I look forward and it is my belief that the relationship between the United States and the Lao PDR will improve, strengthen and grow in importance. For me, U.S-Lao relations has a direct impact on the thousands of Hmong and Lao Americans I represent in St. Paul and the surrounding East metro suburbs. It has been forty years since the first refugees from Southeast Asia arrived in Minnesota, but the family, cultural, and economic ties to Laos continue to be very important. As Laos becomes more engaged in the global economy, respects the rule of law, and embraces human rights for all its citizens my constituents feel more comfortable and more excited about returning to their ancestral homeland.
In the coming year Laos will become chair ASEAN and it is expected that President Obama will be the first U.S. president to visit Laos. It is critical that the U.S. encourage the Lao government to make the necessary reforms that will allow its people to escape poverty and contribute to the long-term success of [[Page E1719]] their country. The lethal legacy of U.S. dropped unexploded ordinance from the era of the Vietnam War continues to plague the Lao people. UXO are a constant reminder of the obligation we have as a government to clean up a mess that continues to kill innocent Lao citizens and impedes economic development on lands all across Laos.
It is my feeling that dialogue, cooperation, and common interests will allow the U.S.-Lao bilateral relations to improve significantly in 2016. Both the Obama Administration and Ambassador Sayavongs have my full support in this goal.
The following are remarks I delivered at the December 4th celebration of U.S.-Lao Relations.
Good evening. Ambassador Sayavongs and Madam Sayavongs, I am honored to be with you tonight to celebrate sixty years of diplomatic relations between our countries, as well as the fortieth anniversary of the Lao PDR.
My relationship with the people of Laos is very special and I strongly support strengthening our bilateral relations.
My home is Minnesota. In my congressional district, I represent tens of thousands of Hmong and Lao-Americans who call Laos their ancestral home. They have family in Laos. Their traditions come from Laos. And, they care deeply about the future of Laos.
More than anyone, I would like to acknowledge Mr. Chao Lee who has been on my congressional staff since 2001, for guiding me and advising me. He is with us tonight and I would like to thank him for his work on behalf of U.S.-Lao relations.
Over my fifteen years serving in Congress I have taken many steps to strengthen this relationship. I was a supporter of normalized trade relations with Laos at a time when many people were fighting about the past rather than working to build a new future. I have always supported increased U.S. funding for UXO clean--a terrible legacy of war that harms the Lao people. And, in 2006, I had the pleasure of celebrating a very special Christmas in Vientiane during a visit to your beautiful country.
Ambassador, I am committed to working with you to strengthen our future together. We will work as partners to address issues important to both our countries--economic development, increased trade, and access GSP, as well as improving human rights and human development to ensure that all Lao people, including women and girls, are free to live full, productive lives.
Ambassador, I wish your government much success as Laos chairs ASEAN next year. I know the Obama Administration will work as a partner to ensure next year's ASEAN Summit is a success and they will have my full support.
Again, congratulations Mr. Ambassador on your country's 40 years.