Government and Politics in Southeast Asia

By John Funston | Go to book overview

4
LAOS
Timid Transition

Nick J. Freeman


INTRODUCTION

Though often caught in the middle of regional strategic rivalry, Laos remains relatively isolated, and is perhaps Southeast Asia’s least understood state. Now, it is moving tentatively onto the world stage, opening its economy and joining the regional mainstream with membership of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) in 1997.

The origins of a unified Lao state arguably date back to the Buddhist kingdom of Lan Xang Hom Khao (Kingdom of a Million Elephants and the White Parasol), founded in the mid-fourteenth century under Fa Ngum, and initially centred on the town of Luang Prabang. During the early eighteenth century, as a result of a conflict over royal succession, Laos divided into three smaller and independent kingdoms, centred on Vientiane (the capital of Lan Xang after 1560), Luang Prabang, and Champassak. By the nineteenth century, all three kingdoms had become vassals of Siam, and their combined territorial extent comprised large areas of what is now northern Thailand (i.e., the Khorat Plateau and land west of the Mekong River), as had unified Lan Xang before them. By the time the French arrived in the latter part of the nineteenth century, just the kingdoms of Luang Prabang and Champassak were still functioning, after Siam’s overthrow and destruction of Vientiane in 1828.

The current territorial extent of landlocked Laos is largely a product of French colonial acquisition and administration. Laos’ present borders were defined in 1893 — and slightly extended westward in 1904 and 1907 — by forcible French acquisition, and subsequently recognized by a series of treaties between France and Siam. Initially seeking to use the Mekong River as a “back door” into China, France gradually annexed all Lao

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Government and Politics in Southeast Asia
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page v
  • Contents vii
  • List of Contributors ix
  • Preface x
  • Introduction xi
  • 1 - Brunei Malay, Monarchical, Micro-State 1
  • 2 - Cambodia after the Killing Fields 36
  • 3 - Indonesia Transforming the Leviathan 74
  • 4 - Laos Timid Transition 120
  • 5 - Malaysia Developmental State Challenged 160
  • 6 - Myanmar Military in Charge 203
  • 7 - Philippines Continuing People Power 252
  • 8 - Singapore Meritocratic City-State 291
  • 9 - Thailand Reform Politics 328
  • 10 - Vietnam Doi Moi Difficulties 372
  • Conclusion 411
  • Index 425
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