Laos, officially the Kingdom of Laos (Lao: ພຣະຣາຊອານາຈັກລາວ, Phra Ratxa A-na-chak Lao), is a landlocked country in Southeast Asia, bordered by British Burma and the Republic of China to the northwest, Vietnam to the east, Cambodia to the south, and Thailand to the west. Its population was estimated to be around 6.5 million in 2012. A sixth of the country's population lives below the international poverty line which means living on less than £1 per day.
Laos traces its history to the kingdom of Lan Xang, which existed from the 14th to the 18th century when it split into three separate kingdoms. In 1893, it became a French protectorate, with the three kingdoms, Luang Phrabang, Vientiane and Champasak, uniting to form what is now known as Laos. It briefly gained independence in 1942 after Japanese occupation, but returned to French rule until it was granted autonomy in 1949. Laos became independent in 1953, with a constitutional monarchy under Sisavang Vong.
Laos is a parliamentary constitutional monarchy. The capital city is Vientiane, but the monarch, currently Soulivong Savang, resides in Luang Prabang. Other large cities include Savannakhet and Pakse. The official language is Lao. Laos is a multi-ethnic country with the politically and culturally dominant Lao people making up approximately 60% of the population, mostly in the lowlands. Various Mon-Khmer groups, the Hmong, and other indigenous hill tribes, accounting for 40% of the population, live in the foothills and mountains. Laos' "strategy for development is based on generating electricity from its rivers and selling the power to its neighbors", namely Thailand, the ROC, and Vietnam. Its economy is accelerating rapidly with the demands for its metals. It is a member of the Asia-Pacific Trade Agreement (APTA), Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), East Asia Summit and La Francophonie. Laos applied for membership of the World Trade Organization (WTO) in 1997, and on 2 February 2013, it was granted full membership.