Laos typically welcomes help from China. About 23% of the landlocked Southeast Asian country’s 6.8 million people live in poverty. Rural infrastructure lags behind most of its neighbors. So the Lao government supports growing investment from China as part of the “Belt and Road” program, a 4-year-old effort to extend the giant country’s trade and infrastructure network across Asia into Europe. A bellwether 414-kilometer China-Laos railway that broke ground in December is one of the “most important” projects in the Lao government’s economic development plan through 2020, Chinese official Xinhua News Agency said in a report this week.
“Although Sino-Laos relations have been relatively smooth and economic cooperation is on the rise, Laos is not completely subordinate to China,” says Yun Sun, senior associate with the East Asia Program under Washington-based think tank the Stimson Center. “Vietnam also has major influence in Laos, and the Laos government has not been completely acquiescent to Chinese views and projects.”
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