Right on Track or off the Rails? – The Impact of the Laos-China Railway on Lao PDR

With the inauguration of the Laos-China Railway and the starting of its operations between Vientiane and Kunming, Laos is entering a new era. This Policy Brief assesses the politics beyond the railway, its risks and benefits.

This year’s Lao National Day, 2 December 2021, marked a historic date. The people of the Lao People’s Democratic Republic (Lao PDR) witnessed the inauguration of the country’s first modern railway line, the Laos–China railway. It officially began operations the following day, connecting the Lao capital of Vientiane with the Chinese provincial capital Kunming. It is one of the first overall major Belt and Road (BRI) projects to have come to fruition.

However, while proponents of the project argue that it will significantly benefit the country both economically and socially, critics see it as an expensive luxury that will greatly extend Chinese influence in Laos and pull Southeast Asia further into China’s orbit.

While it is certainly too early to reach a final verdict on the merits of the railway initiative, this EIAS Policy Brief seeks to provide an overview of this Sino-Lao endeavor and will explore potential risks and benefits resulting from the project for the Lao PDR. Additionally, the article will draw a brief comparison to the planned Budapest-Belgrade railway line and highlight the opportunities resulting from the incipient global infrastructure competition.

Author: Tom Wilms, EIAS Junior Researcher

Photo Credits: Wikimedia Commons