CB56. Laos. Timeline 1900 To The Present

17 May CB56. Laos. Timeline 1900 To The Present

Laos has 7.5 million people. It is a landlocked country in Southeast Asia bordered by China, Myanmar, Vietnam, Cambodia and Thailand. Vientiane is its capital and the largest city. In the 13th century, the Kingdom of Lan Xang (known as kingdom of a million elephants) was set up. Buddhism was made the state religion. Lan Xang (1353–1707) was one of the largest kingdoms in Southeast Asia. The kingdom became a hub for overland trade and became wealthy economically and culturally. Lan Xang existed as a sovereign kingdom for over 350 years. Between 1637 and 1694, King Sourigna Vongsa who ruled for 57 years is seen as Lao’s ‘Golden Age’. After his death the country split into three.

Burmese (Myanmar) armies overran northern Laos. Southern Laos came under Siamese (Thai) rule. In 1779, most of Laos was taken over by the Siamese people. In 1893 French colonists took control and forced the Siamese to withdraw from the western part of the Mekong River, and the  three territories came under a French protectorate as a united country named Laos. France hoped to utilise the Mekong River as a route to southern China. Mekong River is the world’s 12th longest river and the third longest in Asia. The river runs through China, Myanmar, Laos, Thailand, Cambodia, and Vietnam. Although the Mekong is unnavigable due to several rapids, the hope was that the river might be tamed with the help of French engineering and railways. The French maintained control of Laos until 1945, when the Japanese took over for a brief period. In 1953, the French made Laos fully independent and eventually French businesses were forced out. During the Vietnam war, USA believed that Laos was a key country in the battle between communism and capitalism. In the late 1960s, USA recruited the Hmong people to fight against communism. Wanting to hold on to their land and the independence they had maintained for thousands of years, the Hmong saw communism as a threat to their autonomy. An estimated 60% of Hmong men in Laos joined up. Members of another group called Pathet Lao rebelled against USA. Pathet Lao fought with the communist North Vietnam against French-backed South Vietnam. Many people fled Laos during the Vietnam War as fighting spilled over from Vietnam into their country. After overthrowing the Laotian monarchy in 1975, the Pathet Lao launched an aggressive campaign to capture or kill Hmong soldiers and families who sided with the CIA of USA. The Lao royal family were arrested by the Pathet Lao after the war and sent to labour camps where most of them died in the late 1970s and 1980s. The conflict between Hmong rebels and Laos continues. From 1975 to 1996, USA resettled some 250,000 Lao refugees from Thailand, including 130,000 Hmong. Laos’s strategies for development are based on generating electricity from rivers and selling the power to its neighbours, namely Thailand, China, and Vietnam, as well as its initiative to become a ‘land-linked’ nation, as evidenced by the construction of four new railways connecting Laos and neighbours. Laos has been referred to as one of Southeast Asia’s fastest growing economies by the World Bank with an annual GDP growth averaging 7.4% since 2009. However, Laos is notorious for being the second-largest illicit opiumproducing country in Southeast Asia and the third largest in the world (after Afghanistan and Myanmar).

  1. In about 2,000 words, I will describe major events that affected Laos from 1900 to the present.
  2. 1900 (to 1945) – Laos is a French protectorate (since 1893). Laos never held any importance for France other than as a buffer state between Thailand and the more economically important Vietnam. Laos produced tin, rubber, and coffee, but never accounted for more than one percent of French Indochina’s exports.
  3. 1942 (to 1945) – World War Two. (German controlled) Vichy France occupies Laos.
  4. 1945 – Laos is briefly occupied by the Japanese during World War Two.
  5. 1946 – French rule over Laos is resumed, following the surrender of Japan. Earlier, the Japanese attempted to force the king to declare Laotian independence.
  6. 1950 – Faced with an increasingly difficult war against the Viet Minh across much of French Indochina, Laos is granted semi-autonomy as an associated state within the French Union.
  7. 1954 – Laos gains full independence as a constitutional monarchy as the French withdraw following French defeat at the Battle of Dien Bien Phu (won by Viet Minh) (the French-held garrison was overrun). French losses at Dien Bien Phu stood at 2,293 killed, 5,195 wounded and 10,998 captured. Viet Minh casualties exceeded 23,000. This clears the way for the division of Vietnam along the 17th parallel at the conference of Geneva. Civil war breaks out in Laos between royalists and the communist group, Pathet Lao.
  8. 1960s – The Communist government of North Vietnam begins extensive use of the Ho Chi Minh Trail in Laos. Covert US military activities begin. Laos is subject to extensive aerial bombardment by USA to destroy North Vietnamese sanctuaries and to rupture the supply lines known as the Ho Chi Minh trail. USA drops two million tons of bombs on Laos. It is estimated that more bombs were dropped on Laos than were used during the whole of World War Two. It is also done to support the Royal Lao Government against the communist group, Pathet Lao. The bombings destroyed many villages and displaced hundreds of thousands of Laotian civilians during the nine-year period.
  9. 1973 – Vientiane ceasefire agreement divides Laos between the communists and the royalists.
  10. 1975 – The Pathet Lao – renamed the Lao People’s Revolutionary Party (LPRP) – seizes power. King Savang Vatthana abdicates – he is later arrested and dies in captivity. After the Communist victory in Vietnam, The Lao People’s Democratic Republic is proclaimed, with the Lao People’s Revolutionary Party (LPRP) the only legal political party. Kaysone Phomvihane becomes prime minister. “Socialist transformation” of the economy is launched.
  11. 1979 – Food shortages and the flight of hundreds of thousands of refugees to Thailand lead the government to modify its approach. Some private enterprise within agriculture is permitted.
  12. 1986 – Encouraged by the Gorbachev reforms in the Soviet Union, Laos introduces market-oriented reforms.
  13. 1989 – First elections held since 1975. All candidates must be approved by the Lao People’s Revolutionary Party. Communists retain power.
  14. 1991 – Security and cooperation pact signed with Thailand. A new constitution is endorsed. Kaysone Phomvihane becomes president, and Khamtay Siphandon becomes prime minister.
  15. 1992 – President Kaysone Phomvihane dies. Khamtay Siphandon becomes head of the Lao People’s Revolutionary Party.
  16. 1993 – A slow start is made in restoring individual liberties; the country begins opening up to tourism.
  17. 1994 – “Friendship Bridge” over the Mekong River linking Laos and Thailand is opened. Costing about A$42 million, the bridge is built by the Australian Government as development aid for Laos. The bridge is designed and built by Australian companies – a demonstration of their ability to complete major infrastructure projects in Southeast Asia.
  18. 1995 – USA lifts its 20-year aid embargo.
  19. 1997 – Laos becomes a member of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). The Asian financial crisis decimates the value of the Lao currency, the Kip.
  20. 1998 – Khamtay Siphandon becomes president.
  21. 2000 – A series of bomb blasts hits the capital Vientiane – the authorities blame anti–government groups based abroad. Celebrations of 25 years of communist rule take place in Vientiane in December.
  22. 2000 – Government embarks on decentralization process, granting more autonomy and budgetary responsibilities to provinces.
  23. 2001 – Khamtay Siphandon re-elected president, and Laos moves cautiously closer to Thailand as Vietnamese influence diminishes. The gradual transition to a market economy continues.
  24. 2001 – IMF (International Monetary Fund) approves a new three-year loan for Laos worth $40 million. IMF officials expect the loan to help strengthen macroeconomic stability and reduce poverty “through growth with equity”.
  25. 2001 – Parliament introduces death sentence for possession of more than 500g of heroin.
  26. 2001 – UN World Food Programme (WFP) launches a three-year program to feed 70,000 malnourished children in Laos.
  27. 2002 – Parliamentary elections. All but one of the 166 candidates are from the governing Lao People’s Revolutionary Party.
  28. 2003 – Two European journalists and their American translator arrested after making contact with Hmong ethnic group. Pair found guilty of obstructing security forces and briefly jailed. US-based Lao exile group, the Fact Finding Commission, says the Lao Citizens Movement for Democracy (LCMD) has started a revolution in 11 provinces. The government dismisses the claim. The LCMD says it has killed three soldiers in clashes. The government denies the claim.
  29. 2004 – As chair of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), Laos hosts the organisation’s summit.
  30. 2005 – USA establishes Normal Trade Relations, ending protracted period of punitive import taxes.
  31. 2005 – World Bank approves loans for Nam Theun Two hydroelectric dam project. Dam is expected to produce electricity for export. The ruling Lao People’s Revolutionary Party has conducted cautious economic reform but maintains a tight grip on politics.
  32. 2005 – Foundation stone of Nam Theun Two hydroelectric dam is laid.
  33. 2006 – Choummaly Sayasone succeeds Khamtay Siphandone as president. The former vice president also becomes leader of the ruling communists.
  34. 2006 – More than 400 members of the Hmong ethnic group surrender to the authorities. They are among several groups of Hmong who have been living in the jungle as fugitives since 1975, when the pro-USA government they supported was defeated by the communists.
  35. 2007 – USA prosecutors charge nine people with plotting a coup in Laos, including former general Vang Pao, a prominent member of the ethnic Hmong group who emigrated to USA in the 1970s.
  36. 2007 – California court order the release on bail of former general Vang Pao, accused of plotting the overthrow of Laos’ communist government.
  37. 2008 – Laos takes steps to become a full member of the World Trade Organisation.
  38. 2008 – Some 69% of children in Laos lack basic health care, Save the Children charity reports.
  39. 2009 – Thai Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn opens a rail connection over the Mekong River, linking Thailand and Laos.
  40. 2009 – Thailand forcibly repatriates more than 4,000 ethnic Hmong asylum seekers back to Laos.
  41. 2010 – Prime Minister Bouasone Bouphavanh resigns, citing “family problems”, and is replaced by National Assembly president Thongsing Thammavong.
  42. 2011 – New stock market opens in Vientiane as part of tentative experiment with capitalism. Former Laos leader of Hmong ethnic group Vang Pao dies in exile in USA, aged 81.
  43. 2011 – President Choummaly Sayasone is given a further five–year term by the parliament.
  44. 2012 – Hillary Clinton becomes the first USA secretary of state to visit Laos in 57 years. USA is spending $9m on helping to clean up unexploded ordnance (artillery) left over from the Vietnam War in Laos. USA dropped two million tons of bombs on Laos during the Vietnam War and unexploded bombs are still affecting lives and agriculture in Laos. She discusses the controversial Mekong River dam, which critics say would have a major impact on the environment and millions of lives. The $3.8bn hydro-electric dam project at Xayaburi has caused tension among Mekong region countries – a Laos, Vietnam, Cambodia and Thailand.
  45. 2012 – Laos approves plans to build a massive dam at Xayaburi, on the lower Mekong River, despite opposition from environmentalists and neighbours Cambodia and Vietnam.
  46. 2013 – European parliamentarians draw attention to the disappearance of activist Sombath Somphone, last seen at a police checkpoint at a street in Vientiane and has not reappeared since.
  47. 2013 – Laos becomes a member of the World Trade Organisation (WTO).
  48. 2014 – Several senior officials are killed in a plane crash in northern Laos, including Defence Minister and Deputy Prime Minister Douangchay Phichit, Security Minister Thongbanh Sengaphone and Vientiane Mayor Soukanh Mahalath.
  49. 2016 – National Assembly at its five–year congress appoints Bounnhang Vorachit as president and leader of the ruling Lao People’s Revolutionary Party (LPRP), succeeding Choummaly Sayasone.
  50. 2016 – President Barack Obama becomes the first sitting USA president to visit Laos. USA commits US$90 million over three years to help clear unexploded bombs the US dropped on Laos during the Vietnam War. Some 80 million bombs failed to explode and remain scattered throughout the country, rendering vast swaths of land impossible to cultivate. Currently unexplored ordnance (UXO), including cluster munitions and mines, kill or maim approximately 50 Laotians every year.
  51. 2017 – Conservationists warn that Laos has become the fastest growing ivory market in the world, undermining the international effort to stop the illegal trade.
  52. 2020 (to 2023) – COVID-19 pandemic caused more than 750 deaths in Laos.
  53. 2021 – The 422-kilometre Boten-Vientiane railway, a flagship of China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) is opened.
  54. 2023 – Laos has 7.5 million people.

© Comasters May 2023.

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