When I saw this headline, "Laos: Laos-China trade reaches 241 mln USD" I was immediately reminded of my trip to Laos last year.  No, it wasn't the beautiful temples in Vientienne, or the awesome scenery throughout the hills, nor the hiker paradise around Vang Vienne, nor that amazing coffee shop (and greater commercialization in general) in Luang Pra Bang. What struck me about this was just how readily apparent China's sphere of influence has become over the last five years in ASEAN, nowhere more apparent than in Laos. We crossed the border into China by bus in February of 2007, in a very similar fashion to how I had done so 5 years earlier. The glaring difference was that 5 years ago, the Laos side of the border was a no-man's land but the it was absolutely under the total control of the Laos authorities. Even though Chinese cars were crossing through at that point, they were still dealing entirely with Laos border patrol. Last year was totally different. Instead of dealing with Laos patrol, Chinese tourists were being carted through exclusively by Chinese tourist group leaders backed by pseudo-China authority. It was incredible! They barely even acknowledged they were in another country. Moreover, you could tell who was paying whom under the table, and to my even greater shock, the Laos authorities did not pay even nominal attention to what the Chinese tourists and group leaders were doing logistically to get across the border. Well, I guess that's how it is now.
 4 April 2008 Thai News Service (c) 2008 Thai News Service