SINGAPORE - Laos' leaders have ambitious plans for the country, and Singapore hopes to be part of Laos' growth story, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said on Tuesday (May 2).
Speaking at an official dinner at the Istana for visiting Lao PM Thongloun Sisoulith, Mr Lee noted that Singapore companies are recognising Laos' economic potential and have invested in sectors such as real estate, energy, telecommunications, and agriculture.
Laos is one of the region's fastest-growing economies, averaging eight per cent growth over the last decade, and has abundant resources and a young workforce.
And Dr Thongloun, who is here on a one-day visit, has set a 2030 target for Laos to reach upper middle-income status, and the country plans to transform itself from a "land-locked" nation to a "land-linked" one through infrastructure projects.
Singapore companies have expertise in logistics, aviation, urban planning, healthcare and education, and these can complement Laos' development priorities, Mr Lee said.
"Singapore can be Laos' gateway to the world," he added, given Singapore's role as a maritime, aviation and financial hub.
Silkair now flies three times a week from Singapore to Laos, and the Kunming-Vientiane railway - slated for completion in 2021 - will eventually link the Laotian capital to Singapore, through Thailand and Malaysia.
"The improved connectivity will not only spur tourism, but will create greater investment and business opportunities for Laos," said Mr Lee.
In his speech, Dr Thongloun said Laos considers Singapore not only as a friend and a member of the Asean family, but "as a model of contemporary development that all developed countries should try to emulate".
Mr Lee also paid tribute to the "good and steady" ties between Singapore and Laos.
The two countries established diplomatic relations in 1974, and there has been a regular exchange of high-level visits.
President Tony Tan Keng Yam made a state visit to Laos in January, and PM Lee met with Lao foreign minister Saleumxay Kommasith in Singapore this February.
"Our friendship is supported by growing people-to-people relations," he said, adding that human resource development has been one pillar of bilateral ties.
More than 12,500 Lao citizens have participated in the Singapore Cooperation Programme, among them Dr Thongloun himself, who did a course in English and communication in Nanyang Polytechnic.
Dr Thongloun, who visited the polytechnic earlier on Tuesday and met several of his former teachers, thanked Singapore for the assistance and support it has lent in human resource development and other areas, and hope this would continue in the coming years.
He also said that Laos is committed to furthering cooperation at the bilateral and multilateral levels, especially with a view to attaining the ultimate objective of a prosperous Asean.
Mr Lee also thanked his Lao counterpart for giving personal attention to the Singaporeans participating in community projects around Laos. He cited how Dr Thongloun in March received a group of Singapore student volunteers who were helping to build village and school facilities.
"You left a deep impression on these students," he said. "These exchanges, and community projects create lasting memories, friendships and goodwill between our two peoples, and strengthen the basis of our bilateral relations."