Interview: Thongsing Thammavong

How can ASEAN improving how it addresses development gaps across the region?

THONGSING THAMMAVONG: Over the previous years, the Initiative for ASEAN Integration (IAI) has contributed to narrowing the gaps by helping the CLMV countries (Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar and Vietnam) participate in the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) building process. As the development gaps remain wide among ASEAN member states, the IAI continues to be significant and is one of the top priorities for ASEAN after the establishment of the AEC.

ASEAN is in the process of developing IAI Work Plan III, which will provide guidelines for members in narrowing development gaps. ASEAN has exerted great effort in drafting the plan, drawing lessons learned from the previous plans and engaging all relevant sectors. The aim is to formulate a plan that will serve the needs of the CLMV countries to help ensure that the gaps among ASEAN members will be bridged. This will contribute to the effective participation of the CLMV countries in realising the AEC. I wish to express my appreciation to the ASEAN+6, dialogue partners and other external partners of ASEAN for their continued support in the implementation of IAI work plans.

Given its strong bilateral ties with China, to what extent will Laos work to develop ASEAN-China relations as the 2016 ASEAN chair?

THAMMAVONG: China is an important partner of ASEAN. Since the establishment of dialogue relations in 1991 we have seen great achievements in political, security, economic, social, cultural and development cooperation, making China the first ASEAN dialogue partner to accede to the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation in South-east Asia in 2003 and ASEAN’s first strategic partner the same year.

With ASEAN and China celebrating the 25th anniversary of ASEAN-China dialogue relations in 2016, as the chair Laos will work closely with ASEAN members and China to further enhance our strategic partnership. This will be based on the principle of win-win cooperation in this era of regional cooperation in areas such as connectivity, trade, investment, tourism and people-to-people contact, among others. This will contribute not only to elevating ASEAN-China dialogue relations to a higher plane, but also to promoting peace and sustainable development in the region.

How important is the Monsoon Wind Farm project to the ASEAN Power Grid?

THAMMAVONG: Among many criteria, energy is vital to eradicating poverty and developing the economy. In this regard, wind power and hydropower development are top priorities in the sustainable energy policy of Laos. This policy aims to develop the potential energy resources in Laos on the basis of competitiveness, sustainability and efficiency to increase the electrification ratio to at least 98% of total households at a reasonable cost, while promoting interconnection with the regional ASEAN power grid by harmonising and strengthening the national grid, and ensuring reliable supply to all economic sectors in line with the country’s industrialisation and modernisation policy.

We recognise the important role of sustainable clean energy; therefore Laos is studying the possibility of developing the 600-MW Monsoon Wind Farm with 240 turbines. This project is related to the planned ASEAN Power Grid that includes four ASEAN members (Laos, Thailand, Malaysia and Singapore) with the aim of generating 1540 GWh of power per year and reducing carbon emissions by up to 2m tonnes for the ASEAN region. Therefore, this project has to be launched as early as possible in order to contribute to regional energy development, especially that of sustainable clean energy.