Laos ((, , , or ) Lao Language: ສາທາລະນະລັດ ປະຊາທິປະໄຕ ປະຊາຊົນລາວ, Sathalanalat Paxathipatai Paxaxon Lao), officially the Lao People’s Democratic Republic (LPDR) (), is a landlocked country in Southeast Asia, bordered by Burma and the People’s Republic of China to the northwest, Vietnam to the east, Cambodia to the south, and Thailand to the west. Since 1975, it has been ruled by a Marxist and communist government. Its population was estimated to be around 6.8 million in July 2014. Significant corruption exists in the Lao government, military, and communist party in the LPDR, and the legacy of a command economy, as well as excess spending on military and defense budgets during the Cold War and its aftermath, have continued to impoverish Laos. According to the anti-corruption non-governmental organization Transparency International, Laos remains one of the most corrupt countries in the world. This has deterred foreign investment and created major problems with the rule of law, including the nation’s ability to enforce contract and business regulation. Consequently, a third of the population of Laos currently lives below the international poverty line (living on less than US$1.25 per day). Laos has a low-income economy, with one of the lowest annual incomes in the world. In 2013, Laos ranked in 138th place (tied with Cambodia) on the Human Development Index (HDI), indicating that Laos has lower medium to low development. According to the Global Hunger Index (2013), Laos ranks as the 25th hungriest nation in the world out of the list of the 56 nations with the worst hunger situation(s). Laos has had a poor human rights record most particularly dealing with the nation’s acts of genocide being committed towards its Hmong population. Laos traces its history to the kingdom of Lan Xang, which existed from the 14th to the 18th century when it split into three 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 1945 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. Shortly after independence, a long civil war ended the monarchy, when the Communist Pathet Lao movement came to power in 1975. Laos is a single-party socialist republic. It espouses Marxism and is governed by a single party communist politburo dominated by military generals. The Socialist Republic of Vietnam and the Vietnam People’s Army continue to have significant influence in Laos. The capital city is Vientiane. Other large cities include Luang Prabang, 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. 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 neighbours, namely Thailand, China, 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; on 2 February 2013, it was granted full membership.