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Japan's Finance Minister Visits Laos - 2002-01-07

Japan's finance minister met with government leaders in Laos Monday. As Japan is Laos' largest aid donor, the talks focused on how Tokyo can help the country's development.

Japan's finance minister, Masajuro Shiokawa, arrived in Vientiane Monday to assess Laos' development needs. The country continues to struggle from the region's economic recession of the late 1990's. Mr. Shiokawa's visit coincides with a regional tour by Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, who is traveling to the Philippines, Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia and Singapore. Diplomats in Vientiane say both visits reflect Japan's regional role and Tokyo's moves to consolidate its influence and diplomatic ties in Southeast Asia. Mr. Shiokawa met with his Lao counterpart, Soukan Mahalath, and Prime Minister Bounnyang Vorachit. A diplomat with the Japanese Embassy in Bangkok said the talks in Vientiane would be an open exchange of views, with no specific agenda. Diplomats at other embassies say the Lao government is looking for more help for its struggling economy. Laos is heavily dependent on international donor funds. Between 1997 and 2000 Japan provided more than $380 million in aid to Laos, making Tokyo the biggest donor to one of the poorest nations in Asia. Japan also has given $30 million each to Laos and Thailand for the construction of a bridge between the Lao province of Savannakhet and Thailand's northeastern town of Mukdahan. The bridge, due to be completed in 2005, will help link Thailand, Laos and Vietnam. Mr. Shiokawa flies on to the Cambodian capital, Phnom Penh, Tuesday for a similar round of talks there.