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Hugh Evans

British Ambassador to Laos

Part of UK in Laos

29th June 2018 Vientiane, Laos

“The Best Way To Predict The Future is To Create It”   (Abraham Lincoln)

Our annual Queen’s Birthday Party (QBP), held in mid-June, broadly coincides with the anniversary of my arrival in Laos So, it always puts me in a retrospective mood, especially as I contemplate my final year in Vientiane.  But though my small and still relatively new Mission has had its best year ever in terms of engagement and achievement, there is so much more that needs to be done.  It’s why I chose the forward-looking theme of “building the future” for my QBP address this year.

The team of the British Embassy at the #InspireMe Festival 2018

I also chose it because it’s an inherently collaborative concept.  We can’t build the future by ourselves.  We need the enthusiasm and commitment of many other partners behind a set of shared goals to make progress.  And with the support of our many friends across the Lao government as well as fellow diplomatic missions, multilateral agencies, private companies, NGOs and a host of other stakeholders, this is exactly what we have done.

Given our small size, my Embassy continues to focus on a few niche priorities within our Creative Partnership strategy, a medium-term strategy that reflects key UK interests as well as sectors where we believe UK knowledge and expertise adds real value.  In each case, our activities are expanding at about the same rate as the pressure on us to do even more!

Take education.  I was delighted to have the Minister of Education and Sports, Her Excellency Mme Sengduane Lachantaboun as the Chief Guest for this year’s QBP.  Her presence underscored the enormous progress of our bilateral educational cooperation in recent years. And her visit to the UK in January, where she attended the World Education Forum and visited various British educational institutions from kindergarten to university level, has cemented the close relationship we enjoy with her Ministry.

Ambassador Evans and his chief guests cut the #InspireMe cake

Developments on the ground are equally impressive.  Nottingham will become the first British university to offer courses in Laos this year.  Panyathip, a British-modelled school which hosts the Nottingham programme, has now opened its fifth campus in Laos.  Panyathip will also soon host the new Lao operation of the Royal Academy of Dance, a world-famous ballet teaching organisation.  And the opening of Heathfield International School, the licensed model of a school in the UK, marks another milestone for the British profile here.  A growing number of other private schools use the Cambridge examination system.

Students of Panyathip International School singing the national anthems

But private education is not the sole focus of British interest.  LRTT, a UK NGO, will bring the first batch of 28 trained English teachers to Laos in August to help improve public school standards. This will turn into an annual programme with teachers volunteering at public schools around the country.  And the Franks Family Foundation aims to bring to Laos its successful New Generation Schools programme.  The programme has already begun to transform state education in Cambodia.  Moreover, during the coming year, we will use our project funding to help upgrade English language support in the teacher training centres and strengthen English language capabilities in the Lao public service.  In all cases, the support of Madame Sengduane and her colleagues has been crucial and deeply appreciated.

It’s also been a busy year in our efforts to encourage Lao students to study in the UK.  Earlier this year, we mounted the first nationwide Study UK and English Language Roadshow, working with a range of educational partners.  As a result, there has been a 20% increase in study visas to the UK since last year.  We also plan to send 12 outstanding Chevening Scholars to the UK this year.

Equally important in “building the future” with Laos has been our commercial relationship.  In February, our Prime Minister’s new Trade Envoy, Ed Vaizey, paid his first visit here.  His arrival coincided with the British Business Group Laos (BBGL) acquiring its formal operating licence, for which I am particularly grateful to Her Excellency Madame Khemmani Pholsena, Minister of Industry and Commerce.

With around 100 members (representing larger companies as well as SMEs/individual operators), the BBGL has already convened its first Regional Conference – attracting business representatives from other ASEAN countries – and plays a key role in our trade promotion effort, servicing new business enquiries.  I pay tribute to the BBG Chair and Executive Board for their commitment and enthusiasm in developing the organisation.  Maintaining broader business links, especially with the European Chamber of Commerce in Laos and the Lao National Chamber of Commerce and Industry, are also high priorities.

“Building the Future” also extends to supporting Lao efforts to improve governance standards and strengthen the rule of law.  Since 2016, the Westminster Foundation for Democracy has had a presence in the National Assembly providing capacity building assistance to the Justice and Law Committees and to the Assembly’s research division.  With the Assembly’s endorsement, WFD will step up support through a new two-year grant.

Westminster Foundation presents its work at the #InspireMe Festival

In the same vein, we are working with partners to help combat the Illegal Wildlife Trade.  With Laos seen as a source, market and transit zone for this lucrative industry, the government has stepped up its response, boosted by the recent Prime Ministerial Order on wildlife management.  Supporting Laos and other countries in tackling this evil trade is a top British government objective.  In particular, we are funding initiatives both to strengthen the capabilities of the Lao enforcement agencies and to raise public awareness of the problem, including through co-sponsoring an #IWTMekong regional film competition. And, in October, the UK will host a global IWT Conference – a potentially key opportunity for Laos both to highlight the progress it has made and how it plans to address the challenges it continues to face.

Beyond the Embassy’s Creative Partnership agenda, the most striking change in our bilateral engagement over the last 12 months has been the UK’s emergence as a major aid donor to Laos.  Our Environment Department will allocate around $1.2m to partners in Laos engaged in promoting bio-diversity; the Department for International Development is renewing significant support to help clear Unexploded Ordinance or UXO in Laos through its Global Mine Action Programme; and our Health Ministry has developed a multi-million dollar project in to boost this country’s Anti-Microbial Resistance in the human and animal health sectors.  All of this reflects a wider British government commitment to “building the future.”

British NGO Halo at the #InspireMe Festival
British NGO MAG at the #InspireMe Festival

But “building the future” also extends to supporting smaller-scale initiatives, including innovative ideas from my own amazing team.  So, for example, our consular staff are working with local partners in an effort to bring the first Mental Health telephone hotline in Laos.  And our Public Diplomacy and Policy Officer has introduced a “green events standard” to ensure future Embassy activities try to follow environmental best practice, including banning single-use plastics.

So, it’s been an extraordinary year for the Mission.  But we cannot afford complacency. The pace of activity will only intensify in the year ahead. As the UK prepares to leave the European Union, building our ties with ASEAN, a region of huge economic potential and strategic significance, is becoming an ever more important British foreign policy priority.  And in recent years we have seen Laos become an increasingly influential ASEAN member.  Against this background, we will step our bilateral ties through a series of senior visits by the end of the year, including our first ministerial visit to Vientiane since 2012 and a second Trade Envoy visit.

Ultimately, though, “building the future” only makes sense if we keep a focus on those that will be the architects of that future: the next generation.  It was why I was happy to leave the last word of my QBP speech to two very impressive schoolgirls. One of them commented that the education she and her class had received had not only equipped them with the skills for a better future but also instilled important values such as gender equality.  Her dream was to pass her Cambridge exams and go to a British university.  As the 19th Century African American activist Harriet Tubman once observed: “Every great dream begins with a dreamer….”

Linda and Ling Ling from Panyathip School present their plans for the future

About Hugh Evans

Mr Hugh Evans was appointed Her Majesty’s Ambassador to the Lao People’s Democratic Republic in 2015. Mr Evans joined the FCO in 1985 and has covered a wide range of…

Mr Hugh Evans was appointed Her Majesty’s Ambassador to the Lao People’s Democratic Republic in 2015. Mr Evans joined the FCO in 1985 and has covered a wide range of policy and management roles.

He spent his early career as an FCO Research Analyst working on South and South East Asia and was seconded to the US State Department as a regional expert on Asian affairs. He has since served overseas in Nairobi, Khartoum, Moscow and, most recently, Erbil, in northern Iraq.

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