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Asia-Pacific Network

Volume 543: debated on Thursday 26 April 2012

I wish to inform the House of the Government’s intention to reopen the British embassy in Vientiane, Laos, and to establish a British Interests Office in Naypyitaw, Burma. This forms part of the shift in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office’s diplomatic network aimed at strengthening Britain’s influence and contribution globally. These are the eighth and ninth new posts I have announced since May 2010.

The United Kingdom last had an embassy in Laos in 1985. Today there is a need for one once again. Laos takes up the chair of the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) in 2016. It remains the only ASEAN country where the UK is not currently represented. Reopening the embassy will strengthen our bilateral relations with the Laotian Government as the country’s role and influence in the region continues to grow. Trade between our countries has more than doubled in the last year. An embassy will play a vital role in helping more British businesses access this emerging market. Laos’ popularity as a destination for British visitors is rising too. The embassy will offer vital assistance to British nationals in need.

In Burma, a British Interests Office in the administrative capital Naypyitaw would strengthen the work of our embassy in Rangoon and demonstrate our intention to step up engagement with the Burmese Government and people. The office would provide enhanced access to Government interlocutors who are based in Naypyitaw. This access would be vital for UK/Burmese relations, and for encouraging further democratic reform in the country.

These decisions reflect this Government’s commitment to extending the Foreign and Commonwealth Office’s global reach and to boosting British influence. Forging stronger relations in Laos, Burma and across the ASEAN region is our response to the rapid change under way in South East Asia and firmly in the interests of the United Kingdom.