Webcast: Can Laos Cope With Chinese Megaprojects?
Jessica diCarlo of the University of Colorado Boulder Discussing the Belt and Road in Laos With IHE Delft's Susanne Schmeier
The Chinese-financed effort to build a national railway through Laos and related projects in Special Economic Zones are well under way. What are the implications on the ground of these megaprojects? How has Laos as a host country negotiated and implemented the BRI with Chinese counterparts? And what does this tell us about local institutions and Lao-Chinese relations? Watch the webcast with Jessica diCarlo and Dr. Susanne Schmeier.
Our Key Takeaways
Compared to other countries in the region, Laos was an easier entry point for China to proceed with the Pan-Asian Railway, Jessica diCarlo says. In addition to the Laos-China Railway, which was already in planning long before the BRI, several hydropower and Special Economic Zone projects have been retroactively enrolled under the BRI.
It is difficult to say to what extent various groups of people in Laos may profit from the BRI and its related projects, Jessica reflects. The Lao government aims to manage these fast-progressing projects through newly established BRI desks to increases government resources and competencies. Due to the sheer speed of the projects that Jessica discussed, environmental impact and other relevant assessments tend to be rushed, this is especially true for the railway project, for which no environmental or social assessment has been made public.
Jessica also discussed Boten Special Economic Zone—a high-level project between the central Lao and Chinese governments and financed by private capital from China. This new city in northern Laos is under construction and focuses on real estate, tourism and logistics for the soon-to-be-complete railway. The land is leased to the developer for 90 years, and the zone is envisioned to become a new regional hub.
Jessica diCarlo is a doctoral candidate in the Department of Geography at the University of Colorado Boulder. She completed her masters in Development Studies at the University of California Berkeley and was also a visiting fellow at Boston University’s Global Development Policy Center. Jessica specializes in critical development studies, political ecology, political geography, and the anthropology of infrastructure. Her regional expertise is centered in China, where she has worked in Yunnan, Liaoning, Tibetan regions, as well as Beijing and Shanghai since 2008. Her interest in Chinese borderlands led her to do research in Nepal, India and Laos. Her dissertation draws on ethnographic fieldwork in northern Laos and examines the construction and planning of the Laos-China Railway and related economic zones to ground ‘global China’ in ways that pay closer attention to complex host contexts. During her fieldwork, she was a research fellow at the University of Bern’s Centre for Development and Environment in Vientiane, Laos.
Dr. Susanne Schmeier, LLM, is a senior lecturer in water law and diplomacy at IHE Delft in Delft, The Netherlands. She specializes in water and environmental law and management, with a particular focus on shared water resources. Prior to joining IHE Delft, she worked for the German Gesellschaft für internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) as well as various international and regional organizations, including the World Bank, supporting sustainable water resources management around the world. This also brought her to the Mekong region, including to Laos, where she lived for several years and worked for the Mekong River Commission (MRC), and Vietnam, where she was a trainee at the German Embassy. Susanne holds a PhD in water governance from the Free University Berlin (in partnership with Oregon State University), an LLM in international law from the University of London and a diploma/MA in international relations and international law from the University of Leipzig and Sciences Po Paris.