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Cablegate: Laos Reaches Out to "Diaspora"

INFO LOG-00 EEB-00 AF-00 AID-00 A-00 CIAE-00 COME-00
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H-00 TEDE-00 INR-00 IO-00 LAB-01 L-00 MOFM-00
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FMP-00 EPAE-00 ECA-00 IIP-00 SCRS-00 DSCC-00 PRM-00
DRL-00 CARC-00 NFAT-00 SAS-00 FA-00 SWCI-00 PESU-00
GPI-00 /001W

O 231049Z SEP 09
FM AMEMBASSY VIENTIANE
TO SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 2792
INFO ASEAN REGIONAL FORUM COLLECTIVE PRIORITY
AMEMBASSY PARIS
AMEMBASSY CANBERRA
AMEMBASSY TOKYO
AMCONSUL SYDNEY

UNCLAS VIENTIANE 000458


DEPARTMENT FOR EAP/MLS - EMERY AND S/GPI

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV PREL PHUM EAID EINV BEXP BTIO OEXC OIIP SCUL
SMIG, LA
SUBJECT: LAOS REACHES OUT TO "DIASPORA"

REF: STATE 78535


Summary
-------

1. The GOL estimates one million Lao live overseas, mostly in the
U.S., France, Australia, Japan, Germany, and Belgium. In the U.S.,
Lao-Hmong and Lowland Lao make up the majority of the Diaspora.
Although in the past the GOL made little attempt to engage with its
Diaspora, the GOL now actively seeks opportunities to work with its
overseas compatriots for cultural and economic reasons. The GOL
formed an association with Lao Diaspora in France and looks to do
the same in the U.S. The GOL also is drafting a new decree to offer
"honorary citizenship" to former Lao citizens to facilitate
investment by this community. END SUMMARY.

Background
----------

2. An estimated 350,000 Lao fled the country as refugees following
the 1975 victory by the communist Pathet Lao over the Royal Lao
Government. The U.S., France, and Australia received large numbers
of the refugees (along with Germany, Japan, and Belgium), other
refugees soon followed the original outflow, and a number of Lao
people have since emigrated to join relatives in these countries.
The GOL estimates one million Lao reside overseas.

3. Two groups make up the majority of the Lao in the U.S., the
Lao-Hmong and the Lowland Lao. Although both groups of refugees
opposed a communist takeover of Laos, ethnic differences between the
groups and separate political agendas inhibit clear identification
as a single socio-cultural group in the U.S. Both groups are active
politically at the national and local level in the U.S. and try to
influence USG policy toward Laos. The Lao-Hmong tend to focus more
on Lao-Hmong specific issues, such as the Lao-Hmong migrants in
Thailand, the few remaining Lao-Hmong opposing the GOL, and the
treatment of ethnic minorities in Laos.

Overseas Activities
-------------------

4. Because of the vocal (and sometimes vociferous) opposition to
the GOL among Lao refugees in the U.S. and strained relations with
the U.S., the GOL did not engage with that community for many years
after 1975. However, as more Lao made return visits to Laos and
relations with the U.S. improved, the GOL found value in reengaging
with the overseas Lao for political, economic, and social reasons.

5. The GOL has established a program to work with overseas Lao to
promote Lao culture and to encourage overseas Lao to return to Laos
and establish business enterprises. The GOL recently located the
Lao Outreach Department (LOD) in the MFA, removing it from the
Commission for External Relations, Central Committee, Lao People's
Revolutionary Party. Phonekham Inthaboualy, Director General of
LOD, told us some of the younger overseas Lao, especially those born
outside of Laos, have weak Lao language skills. In addition to
improving the language skills of the younger generation, the GOL
also wants to work with the overseas Lao to promote Lao cultural
awareness within the host country's population.

6. The MFA, through its Embassy in Paris, worked with Lao in France
to create an official association that hosts social and cultural
events, as well as allowing Lao officials to brief them on
developments inside Laos. The GOL would like to form a similar
association in the U.S. to learn from the Lao people in the U.S.
what life is like for them and to help preserve their cultural
values.

Closer to Home
--------------

7. In order to attract investment from overseas Lao, the GOL is
drafting a new decree that would award "honorary citizenship" to
former Lao citizens who have since naturalized in other countries.
The new status as currently conceived would allow the recipients to
hold a Lao passport, reside in Laos, and own property in Laos. The
honorary citizens, however, could not participate in political
activities.

Comment
-------

8. The GOL's outreach to the overseas Lao has a pragmatic, economic
element and a deeper, cultural aspect. The GOL is well aware of the
role of the overseas Vietnamese in aiding Vietnam's rapid economic
development. Even if the few return to invest, remittances can help
its balance of payments and provide for some economic growth.
Western Union's billboards in Vientiane tout the happiness that
comes from "uncle's" money transfers to Lao children.

9. On a socio-cultural level, the GOL worries about the increasing
foreign influences on Lao youth. Western and, especially, Thai
cultural influences pervade much of urban Laos. Promoting a sense
of "Laoness" among the diaspora can help the GOL define what it
means to be Lao within a worldwide setting and contribute to a more
cosmopolitan outlook -- needed as Laos projects itself more into the
world community -- while maintaining its unique cultural identity.

Huso

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