Koizumi Cabinet E-mail Magazine No. 166 (December 2, 2004)
[Lion Heart -- Message from Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi]
Visit to Laos
I visited Vientiane, the capital of Laos, from Sunday to Wednesday, to attend the ASEAN+3 meeting. Leaders from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), Japan, China, and the Republic of Korea (ROK) gathered to participate in this meeting.
Laos is a land-locked country on the Indochina Peninsula bordered by Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand, Myanmar, and China with a population of about 6 million. A developing country about the same size as Honshu in Japan, Laos' annual per capita gross domestic product is approximately 40,000 yen and its civil servants earn 2,000-3,000 yen a month.
This was my first visit to Laos. Vientiane lies on the banks of the languid Mekong River, in a location on the border with Thailand and is an atmospheric city dotted with the gleaming golden stupas of Buddhist temples.
I hear that Laos made tremendous efforts in preparations for this meeting, including the construction of a new accommodation facility for the leaders. Although many meetings were being held simultaneously and the leaders of each country were busy moving from one to the other, thanks to the host country's excellent arrangements and warm hospitality, all of these meetings were held in a comfortable setting and were most productive.
My schedule was a truly hectic one, including the meeting with the ASEAN leaders and the trilateral meeting among Japan, China, and ROK. I also held bilateral meetings with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh of India, Prime Minister Soe Win of Myanmar, President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo of the Philippines, Prime Minister Dato' Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi of Malaysia, Premier of the State Council Wen Jiabao of China, Prime Minister John Howard of Australia, and Prime Minister Bounnhang Vorachith of Laos, and a quadrilateral meeting among Japan, Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam.
I talked candidly with these leaders about the economic challenges encountered by Asia as it pursues development, measures to combat terrorism, and the problem of piracy in the Straits of Malacca. We also agreed to hold the East Asia Summit in Malaysia next year, in which leaders from the 13 countries will take part.
In my meeting with President Macapagal-Arroyo, we came to a general consensus on a Japan-Philippines free trade agreement (FTA). In addition to moving forward with the ongoing FTA negotiations with Thailand, Malaysia, and ROK, Japan will expand the circle of FTAs to encompass ASEAN and Chile, which I visited last week.
Between meetings, I had the opportunity to meet with many Japanese people who are working hard in Laos. Some of them were Japan Overseas Cooperation Volunteers and many of the volunteers were women. Some young women were working as nurses and midwives in hospitals, while others were working as staff in museums or distributing mimeographs to schools. All of these volunteers have assimilated themselves into a Laotian lifestyle and told me they are receiving kind treatment from the people of Laos. I was genuinely encouraged by the passion and vitality of the people striving to help the Laotian people.
Cooperative relations with foreign countries cannot be founded on summit-level meetings alone. Continued cooperation and exchanges at the grassroots level will establish the groundwork for friendly relations and cooperation among nations.
The words of a non-governmental organization worker I met struck a deep chord with me. He said, "I feel that the people here in Laos have taught me more than I have them. I have learned to realize what is important to us as human beings - something that Japanese people have forgotten."
* The title of this column "Lion Heart" is a reference to the Prime Minister's lion-like hairstyle and his unbending determination to advance structural reform.
- The Second Day of the ASEAN+3 Summit Meeting (November 30, 2004)
- The First Day of the ASEAN+3 Summit Meeting (November 29, 2004)
- The Fourteenth Meeting of the Office for Promotion of Justice
System Reform (November 26, 2004)
- Prime Minister Receives a Report of the Tax Commission
(November 25, 2004)
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