Lao People’s Dream: Laos-China Railway Takes Away Poverty

(Vientiane-Laos): Among the six countries in Indo-China Peninsula, Laos is special for geographically being surrounded by China, Burma, Thailand, Vietnam and Cambodia. Being mountainous and short of roads, the Laos transportation is described as “extremely underdeveloped” . In order to break the plight, the Lao government declared in 2015 to change Laos from a “land-locked country” to a “land-linked country”.

“Land-linked Country”, a term created by the Lao people, has been regarded as Laos national strategy, which reflects the precise understanding of Laos’ position.How to link? One of the “keys” is to build the Laos-China railway from the Lao-China border Mohan-Boten Port southwards to Vientiane.

The Laos-China railway will be started from the Lao-China border from the north and to Vientiane, the Capital of Laos. It is the first overseas railway project invested and to be built by China, jointly operated by two countries and connected with China’s railway networks. The entire railway adopts Chinese technology and equipment, which is to be completed and open to traffic by December 2021. The railway is designed with a speed of 160 km per-hour. The total track length is 414 km, among which the length of bridge is 62 km, the length of tunnel is 198 km, accounting for 62.7 percent of the total length.

As an important project along the “Belt And Road”, the Laos-China railway is also the important part of the Trans-Asian Railway. The railway has been on a nine-year journey since it was approved by the Laos National Assembly in 2010 and officially started construction in 2016.

From expectation to reality, the Laos-China railway has brought many changes and expectations to the Lao people in recent years.

Prime Minister Of Laos: Laos Benefits Most From The “Belt and Road” Initiative.

On September 25, 2018 the Lao Prime Minister Thongloun Sisoulith met with the visiting Zhao Leji, Member of the Standing Committee of the Political Bureau of Communist Party of China (CPC), Secretary of the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection, and Member of the Standing Committee of the CPC Central Committee. He said that every achievements of China have encouraged Laos to further strengthen the friendly Sino-Laos ties, and the deep cooperation with China under the framework of “the Belt and Road”Initiative.

To strengthen the cooperation with China under the framework of the “Belt and Road” Initiative is the true words of the Lao leaders. Two days later, Lao Prime Minister Thongloun told the visiting secretary-general of Boao Forum for Asia, Li Baodong, that the “Belt and Road” Initiative proposed by President Xi Jinping has provided huge opportunities for the infrastructural, economic and social development of the countries along the route, from which Laos has benefited the most.

The Benefits Of Laos-China Railway To Laos Are Obvious And Will Be Enjoyed Tor Generations.

Once the construction of Laos-China railway is finished and opened to traffic, the time from the Lao-China border to Vientiane will be shortened from 16 hours by bus to 3 hours by train. According to the report by the Ministry of Public Construction and Transportation of Laos, the Laos-China railway will help Laos achieve its strategy of external cooperation and connectivity with China and other ASEAN countries, and will play an important role in attracting foreign investment, modern technology and human resources.The Vientiane Times of Laos also thinks that the construction of the Laos-China railway will become an important pillar of Laos’ economic growth.

Thongloun highly praised the railway after a visit to a railway construction site in northern Oudomxay Province. He said the Laos-China railway is a strategic cooperation project between the two countries. The project is a link of win-win cooperation and mutual development between the two countries and will become a strong power for Laos’ economic development, as well as bring the people of both countries more benefits. He wishes the Laos-China railway a historic green railway with high quality and efficiency.

People along the railway are feeling the benefits deeply. “The construction of the Laos-China railway will boost the economic development along the route and provide more job opportunities and possibility of development for local Lao people,” Natsavee Norasing, a resident of Luangprabang Province said in an interview.

“The Laos-China railway project is under construction, with 40% of the project completed so far, and the most positive impact on Laos is to promote local employment.” Tang Xiaojun, a Lao journalist, gives more convincing figures: “there were 7,112 jobs in six sections of the Laos-China railway project in July last year, all of which were provided to the Lao people. Such mass hiring of Lao staff is rare.”

The Laos-China Railway Boosts Economy

As the old Chinese saying goes, “If you want to be rich, build the road first.” The poor infrastructure is the key reason for the slow growth of Laos domestic economy.

With an area of 236,800 square kilometers and a population of more than 6.5 million, Laos had only one railway line of 3.5 kilometers before the construction of the China-Laos Railway. At the end of the line is Thanaleng Railway Station, located in the south of Vientiane.It is as small as a railway station in Chinese countryside towns. With the construction of the Laos-China railway, the situation will be completely changed.

Nuke, a grocery store owner who lives near Vientiane railway station, is full of expectation about the Laos-China railway. “We are all happy to have a railway here,” he said. “When it opens, more tourists will come and business will be better. Even though the government took over our land, but we will be compensated and our lives will change.When I get money, I’ll visit China by train.”

Thingmiphong, a resident from Louangnamtha Province which is the first Lao province on the Laos-China railway line from China, hopes that local farmers’ products will go to international markets. She said Laos is an agricultural dominated country, and the Laos-China railway has provided convenient conditions for local agricultural products to go into overseas markets, which will increase farmers’ income.

The direct feeling and expectation of the Lao people is to let human resources and products flow and keep economy alive. Natsavee Norasing, a resident from Louangphrabang Province said: “The railway can greatly improve Laos domestic transportation, promote population flow between China and Laos, which will provide huge space for development of the social economy, cultural tourism and labor market. Also, domestic demands of Laos will be further expanded. Mutual development and prosperity of culture and economy between two countries will be achieved. It is really convenient and good to local people.”

The Laos-China railway is like an engine that drives more and more local industrial chains. Huang Difu, general manager of the international branch of China Railway Corporation said, “The construction of the railway will directly drive the development of local engineering, supply of building materials, electricity, agriculture and animal husbandry, service industry, logistics and other industries in Laos. It will promote local employment and industrial upgrading. What’s more, the railway also plays an important role in promoting the development of tourism, trade, agriculture, animal husbandry and processing industries along the line.”

Of course, Vientiane is not the terminal of the Laos-China railway. When the Laos-China railway is finished, there will be more development space for the ASEAN. The time the Laos-China railway started building, Yuxi-Mohan railway in China also did, which is expected to be completed at the same time. By then, the central line of the Trans-Asian Railway will take shape. In the future, the Laos-China railway will connect with railways of Thailand, Malaysia and other countries and become a new economic link between China and the ASEAN.

Compensation Can Better People’s Lives

With a total length of 414 kilometers, 80 percent of the railway is going through mountains and plateaus, including a 7 degree seismic zone and two depopulated areas. In addition, the United States left nearly 100 million cluster bombs unexploded in Laos during the 1960s and 1970s, and the Laos-China railway will pass through these dangerous areas. Although the Laos-China railway has made very reasonable planning, it inevitably involves land acquisition and compensation along the line.

Before the groundbreaking ceremony for the railway in December 2016, the statistics work for land expropriation and compensation was basically finished: about 3,000 hectares of land will be permanently taken over and 800 hectares of land will be temporarily used. 4,411 households will be affected due to the construction of the railway project.

After many coordinating meetings between China and Laos, the Lao government is now seeking the opinion of relevant parties on the compensation standard. According to requirements of railway projects, the compensation prices for lands in different sections are also different, which is mainly based on whether the land is connected to national highways, provincial highways, village roads or roadless.

Villagers affected by the railway project will also be paid for their houses and apartments, as well as small buildings such as kitchens, sundries, garages, shops and animal houses. In addition, the developers of the railway project will compensate the crops and fruit trees that must be uprooted due to the railway construction.

In order to ensure the compensation process is fair and transparent , the Laos government also requires relevant parties to open accounts at Laos foreign trade banks. At present, four provinces and one city along the railway have agreed on the amount of compensation. According to the liabilities of contract, Laos is responsible for land compensation, while the Laos-China Railway Company is responsible for demolition compensation. About 500 million Yuan has been allocated as demolition compensation budget, and the Laos government promises to take necessary measures to ensure that the compensation process is open, fair and orderly.

According to the Laos Statistics Bureau, the Per capita GDP of Laos was $2,468 in 2017. The government’s compensation standard is 320,000 kips – 3.5 million kips per square metre (about $37- $410 per square metre). Plus other compensation for farmland, homesteads, young crops and so on, the amount of compensation will be considerable and equal to the annual income of local people. “Reasonable compensation for demolition and relocation will be helpful to improve the living and housing conditions of the people along the railway.” said Laos mediaman Tang Xiaojun.

“Although the railway project affects factories, farmland, private land and villages in northern Laos including Louangnamtha, Oudomxay and Louangphrabang, the government is willing to compensate, and the pricing is reasonable, so people can accept it.” Khamsam Laochong, a resident from Oudomxay Province said :“I hope the railway can make life easier for local people and help us take away poverty.”

Never Forget The Public Welfare While Building The Railway

Chinese companies such as China Railway Engineering Corporation, Power Construction Corporation of China declare that they will make the Laos-China railway “a way of friendship, a way of incorruptibility and a way of wellbeing”. They never forget the public welfare while building the railway.

In the Laos sustainable development report released in 2018, Power Construction Corporation of China declares that they will undertake the social responsibility, and make efforts to promote local employment, technology and social development while conducting construction. They will actively do compulsory donations, flood-fighting and emergency rescues etc, contribute to the local education and people’s livelihood, respect local culture, religion and customs, so as to promote the exchange of Chinese traditional culture and local culture.

Since the project department of the Power Construction Corporation of China was set up in Xieng Ngeun district of Louangphrabang Province in 2016, they have built about 104 km of roads in Laos, and input about 118.58 million yuan. They also built a new 72 km power line and a new transformer substation of 115- 22kv in the Juge river, as well as five reservoirs and 11 km of water pipes. They participated in landslide repair projects many times on Louangphra section of No. 13 national highway in Laos. In addition, the project department has also opened a technical training school for the Lao workers, and conducted three training courses, providing more than 100 local jobs.

On July 23 this year, a sub-dam under construction in Attapu province, south of Laos collapsed, causing huge losses of life and property.While motivating Chinese companies involved in the Laos-China railway construction to donate money and materials to support the affacted area, the project department of China-Laos Railway sent an engineering team to the disaster site and rebuilt four new highway bridges in more than 40 days. Laos prime minister Thongloun awarded a commendation to the Laos-China Railway Corporation, China Railway Engineering Corporation, Power Construction Corporation of China for their contribution to the bridge rebuilding in the disaster area of Attapu.

“Though building the Laos-China railway can bring some negative impacts, such as social security problems caused by large population movements, insufficient accommodation, cultural conflicts, and environmental pollution in Laos.” Natsavee Norasing, a resident of Louangphrabang Province, dose not worry about these problems: “We are working together to solve these problems. While doing this, the people of two countries will be more intimate and united like a family.”

Western medias are skeptical of the construction of the Laos-China railway. Whatever the compensation or environment issues, the Lao government and people will have reasonable policies and comprehensive evaluation. In constructing the Laos-China railway, the two countries will cooperate with each other and understand each other, because It is not only a traffic artery, but more like a “friendship bridge” linking the people of two countries.

Thanks to the Laos-China railway, all things will be better, wherever in China or Laos.