| The Chinese
from the north occupied Laos in the 4th and 5th centuries
AD. It was subject to strong laosian influence from the 8th
century and beyond and subsequently adopted Buddhism. Laos was
part of the Khmer Angkor Empire for
over 200 years from the beginning of the 11th century. It was during that time
that the Laotian, who originated in Thailand, took over the area
and replaced the dominant Chinese. However, some evidence exists
that the Mongol empire had some influence over what happened
in the region in the late 13th and early 14th centuries, likely
in alliance with the Angkor kingdom.
After the fall of the Khmer empire, the uncontrolled kingdom of Lan
Xang, which dates back to 1349, was set up as a single entity
bordered by China to the north, Siam (Thailand) to the south, Vietnam and the
invading almost the same territory as modern-day
Populated by a mixture of ethnic Laos, Thais and varied hill tribes,
the Lan Xang Empire lasted for three hundred years while
defending against successive invasions from Vietnam, Siam (Thailand)
and Burma. Its neighbours took advantage of internal power
struggles in the 18th century, specifically Siam, which finally
took control of Vientiane in 1779.
The Siamese later crushed the city and the remains of Lan
Xang were absorbed by Siam. The 19th century was a time of political
strife in which rival powers with shifting alliances battled for
dominance of the territory. The Siamese were in power until the
French arrived, who had previously established a stronghold
in neighbouring Vietnam, in the 1870s. Laos subsequently
became part of French Indo-China, which lasted until the
1950s, with the exception of a short period of occupation by the
Japanese during World War II.
Complete independence was achieved in 1953 under the
control of King Sisavang Vong. The monarchy was opposed by the
former nationalist guerrillas who formed the Laotian Patriotic
Front (LPF) whose soldiers, the Pathet Lao, built an
alliance with the Viet Minh (later Viet Cong) nationalists
in Vietnam, to oust the residual French, and later to oppose US
influence in the region and the regimes they supported.
In spite of continued efforts, both before and after the communist
takeover in 1975, the Chinese could not exert any real influence
over the country.
Actually, following 1975, Laos relied on military
and economic support from Vietnam, China’s enemy. In the late
1980s however, tension between China and Laos finally began to subside:
diplomatic relations (which had been cut off in the late 1970s)
were restored in December 1987, and cultural and bilateral trade
Continuous improvement has been retained since then. Relations
with the West and with Thailand have steadily improved. Since 1988,
there has been a significant increase in commercial contact between
Laos and Thailand and the political relationship has
The dominant politicians in Laos since it gained independence have
been the veteran General Secretary of the Lao People’s
Revolutionary Party (the LPRP, whose armed wing is the Pathet
Lao), Kaysone Phomvihane, and Prince Souphanouvong
(the ‘Red Prince’).
The actions of the country’s major opposition movements, the
right-wing pro-royalist United Lao National Liberation Front
and the United Front for the National Liberation of the Lao People,
have been only minor armed uprisings from bases among the northern
hill tribes (the cause of several minor bombings in Vientiane during
2000 has yet to be discovered).
from all his posts in March 1991, leading to a period of main economic
and political reform. A new constitution was fostered in August
1991 under which elections for a new National Assembly were
held in December 1992. Economic reform started as Laos strived to
emulate the changes effected by its larger neighbours. The country’s
relative isolation and shortage of resources has made this difficult.
Several regional economic co-operation agreements have been coordinated
with Thailand, Vietnam and Cambodia. Also,
Laos has been admitted to the Association of South East Asian
Nations, the former anti-communist regional bloc, which has
since become an economic organization.
In 1995, the USA eased their aid embargo, which began during
the 1975 revolution. These developments were sadly offset by the
1997 Asian financial crisis, which brought about a decline
in the value of the kip.
But Laos has not achieved much political evolution and the LPRP
maintains tight control. In 1998, changes in the higher echelons
of the regime promoted Khamtay Siphandone, among a few
remaining veterans of the original Pathet Lao leadership,
to the position of president and leader of the LPRP politburo replacing
the retiring Phoumsavanh.
Elections to the
National Assembly were held in February 2002: all
candidates were members of the LPRP except one (who was,
nonetheless, government-approved). This didn't help the government’s
main internal problem: the rising insurgency by the Hmong
people, a neglected ethnic minority living in the north of the country.
The Hmong have launched continuous streams of violent attacks over
the last three years.