Train tracks to bind Laos and China

Laos’s mountainous terrain has always provided a barrier to trade with China. Source: Pixabay


China and Laos are trumpeting a rapid rise in economic cooperation over the past few years, evolving from commodity trading to a higher level of interaction.

Last month, Laos’s first ever satellite was launched into space from the Xichang launching centre in China.

A few days earlier, a long-awaited railway project connecting China and Laos was agreed by Beijing and Vientiane to enter the implementation phase after five years of negotiations.

At the launch of the Lao Sat-1 satellite, Yao Bin of the Chinese Chamber of Commerce in Laos and chairman of Kritaphong Group claimed he was moved to tears.

“I was so excited. Seven years of effort have finally yielded fruitful results, which will further consolidate the community of shared destiny and the comprehensive strategic cooperative partnership between China and Laos,” Yao told China’s state-run media agency Xinhua.

Kritaphong has also been involved in the rail project across the mountainous boundary between the countries by stressing the benefits to the citizens of Laos.

Yao Bin said he had seen the increased economic cooperation between the two countries since arriving in early 1990s.

He started by selling bicycles and tiles in 1990 and has expanded to construction engineering.

Yao has also cooperated with Chinese state-owned and private areas, including real estate, construction materials, hotels and communications.

“China and Laos enjoy high political mutual trust and a win-win economic cooperation. The cooperation between the two countries has been evolving from low level to a higher and more intensified level; turning from simple trade to exports of complete sets of equipment and cooperation in high technology,” Yao said.

He told Xinhua: “The cooperation in satellite and railway projects are the two landmarks in the development of bilateral ties.”

In the early 1990s, more than 90 per cent of daily necessities and production materials in Laos were imported as there was almost no industry in the landlocked country.

This demand attracted many Chinese traders.

Song Jiefeng, executive vice president of the Hunan Chamber of Commerce in Laos, said: “I started my business in Laos with 1,000 yuan’s worth of daily necessities placed in front of people’s homes to sell. People are very kind. They did not bargain. I sold out all the goods within four to five days.

“We had meals and slept along the road whenever we could.”

Laos is one of the least-developed countries in Southeast Asia and most citizens have only seen trains on television.

Sykhoun Bounvilay, general secretary of Laos-China Friendship Association, told Xinhua: “I am among the few Lao citizens who experienced riding on China’s modern trains. In 2010, I travelled by high-speed train from Beijing to Tianjin and I was awed by the train’s speed which was 300kmph.”

Sykyoun said the railway would promote Laos tourism and open the country to Chinese investment.

It takes more than 12 hours to drive the 1,000km length of Laos and aviation safety is seen as limited.

Vichit Xindavong, vice president of Laos-China Joint Cooperation Commission, said: “Though the speed of trains through the China-Laos railway route would not be as high as that in China, at a speed of 160km per hour, to travel by train from the northern border with China to Vientiane, a distance of 418km, would still be fewer than three hours. This is good enough.

“Laos is about to see a new page in its history. From now on, Laos will have a modern railway system. I am very happy since the signing ceremony coincided with the 40th anniversary of the establishment of Laos People’s Democratic Republic,” said Vichit.

The route starts from Mohan-Boten border area with China, which is a distance of 418km to Vientiane. Since as much as 60 per cent of the route passes through bridges and tunnels, the speed would only be about 160kmph.

The railway project has a total investment of 40 billion yuan (US$6.3 billion), with 70 per cent reportedly coming from China and 30 per cent from Laos.

China is the biggest investor and donor in Laos and the second-largest trading partner after Thailand.

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