Laos’s Chinese Gamble (Page 2 of 3)

The company behind all this is little-known Dokngiewkham, registered in Hong Kong and also known by the English name The King Romans Group. Its investors are said to hail from Hong Kong, Macau and Yunnan Province, although the group has declined to divulge the names or details of their backers.

This mega project’s strategy is based on rapid regional integration and the construction of an ‘Asian highway’. Road improvements have greatly improved road access from Yunnan through Laos to the Thai border at Chiang Khong on the Mekong, while railway links are also in the works that will link northern Thailand through Laos to China.

Laos’ communist government has signed over 10,000 hectares to Dokngiewkhamon a 99-year lease basis. A prime ministerial decree in February, meanwhile, set out the guidelines for ‘the establishment and management of the Golden Triangle Special Economic Zone’ with 3000 hectares designated as a duty-free SEZ. The rest has been set aside for eco-tourism, with the government to share the profits with the developer.

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Yet despite the fact that China is the biggest investor in Laos, with a plethora of rubber plantations and mines, an influx of Chinese settlers is fuelling growing anti-Chinese sentiment in this landlocked nation.

Laotian farmers already complain they’ve been pressured by local authorities to sell land for excessively low prices to fast expanding Chinese rubber plantations. The casino project, with its plans for a new city of more than 50,000 people—a prospective Chinatown in the Golden Triangle—are therefore almost certain to fuel more local resentment.

The mood isn’t helped by the fact that an older Chinese-run casino in Boten has acquired an unsavoury reputation for being rife with drugs, kidnappings, blackmail and murder. China has warned its citizens to stay away and claims to have asked the Lao government to close it down. But it remains open, still firmly in the hands of private Chinese investors who employ their own security force, which many say acts with impunity.

E. Abbas a Dokngiewkham executive, admits the group’s previous experience is limited to operating casinos in Mongla, a Chinese-dominated border town in Special Region No. 4 of Shan state in Burma. Built among the ethnic hill tribes of northern Burma, Mongla has a reputation for being a hotspot of laundering for the profits of the region’s drugs trade, all under the supervision of local warlord Sai Leun, aka Lin Ming Xian.

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