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Obama's Latest Stop In Laos Focuses On Younger Demographic


President Obama is in Laos as part of his final trip to Asia as president. To get a sense of the future, look no further than Laos and other Southeast Asian nations. Some 60 percent of the population is under the age of 35, and young people are the focus of Obama's day today. NPR's Elise Hu is with the president and joined us to talk about it. And, Elise, the president is outside the capital this morning in a small town, which I gather has a very rich history.

ELISE HU, BYLINE: That's right. He is in Luang Prabang, which used to be the seat of Lao royalty. Hundreds of Lao lined the streets to see the motorcade and to greet the president as he made stops at an important landmark. Obama visited a 16th-century Buddhist temple. He then did a little shopping, actually, at stalls along the Mekong River, strolled along there drinking straight out of a coconut. So crowds were lined up both on foot and on their mopeds, stopped to try and catch a glimpse of this walk.

So he did all this before hosting a town hall for about 400 college-age students from across the Southeast Asian countries at a university in Luang Prabang. It's really an acknowledgment that this demographic is likely to shape the region's future since the region skews so young, as you mentioned, Renee. And in the town hall, the president addressed that reality head on, saying that this is actually the region that's going to grow faster than anyplace else in the world.

PRES BARACK OBAMA: It has the youngest population, and the economy is growing faster than any place. And if we are here interacting and learning from you and understanding the culture of the region, then we'll be left behind. We'll miss an opportunity, and I don't want that to happen.

MONTAGNE: And, Elise, looking ahead from this day, President Obama still has some meetings ahead of him at this summit of Asian nations. What's on the agenda?

HU: So Obama will head back to the capital of Vientiane tonight and spend most of the day tomorrow Thursday at the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, or ASEAN, summit. Not only are there going to be meetings with the leaders of the 10 Southeast Asian nations but also an East Asia summit happening at the same time. So the president could have a chance to talk with two regional partners - Japan and Korea - on some issues of mutual concern, namely North Korea.

MONTAGNE: North Korea, right, it launched another three ballistic missiles this week. Is there going to be any movement on that front while the American and East Asian leaders are together?

HU: Well, with this week's launch, Renee, North Korea has conducted about a dozen ballistic missile tests this year alone. That's on top of a nuclear test in January and a rocket launch in February. The U.N. Security Council put out a statement condemning this latest launch as many of the neighboring countries in the region also did. But there is no sense that a diplomatic solution is coming, and those in the region, notably Japan, are getting increasingly concerned about North Korea incrementally advancing its nuclear program. But we're not expecting any breakthroughs on this front except to say that it's at the top of mind here.

MONTAGNE: NPR's Elise Hu covering the president's trip to Asia for us in Laos. Elise, thanks very much.

HU: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Elise Hu is a host-at-large based at NPR West in Culver City, Calif. Previously, she explored the future with her video series, Future You with Elise Hu, and served as the founding bureau chief and International Correspondent for NPR's Seoul office. She was based in Seoul for nearly four years, responsible for the network's coverage of both Koreas and Japan, and filed from a dozen countries across Asia.
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