A Chinese citizen was killed in an attack in Laos this week, China’s Foreign Ministry confirmed on Thursday. Since the beginning of 2016, three Chinese citizens have died in two separate attacks in Laos.
According to Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hong Lei, the latest incident involved an attack on a logging company in Luang Prabang Province, in north-central Laos. Hong said the logging site was “attacked by a group of unidentified militants” at 7 pm local time on March 1. One Chinese worker was killed and three others were injured.
Hong said China had asked Laos to “get to the bottom of the case as soon as possible, and bring perpetrators to justice.” He added, “We hope that the Lao side can take effective measures to ensure the safety and legitimate rights and interests of Chinese citizens and organizations in Laos.”
Tuesday’s attack follows a January 24 incident in which two Chinese nationals were killed in what was believed to be a bombing attack. One of the victims worked for a Chinese mining company; the other two were not identified.
In both cases, it’s unclear whether the Chinese citizens were specifically targeted for attacks. Xinhua’s report on the March 1 attack noted that a separate attack on the same day in the same district targeted a bus traveling from the capital of Vientiane; three Laotians were injured in that incident. Another two were injured in an attack the same day on a truck. Xinhua attributed both attacks to the same, unidentified “militants,” and reported that “the army of Luang Prabang Province was sent to wipe out the militants.”
Although the details and motives behind the attacks are still fuzzy, Josh Kurlantzick of the Council on Foreign Relations noted that sporadic violence in Laos is not uncommon, “particularly in Hmong-dominated areas in upcountry Laos.”
Radio Free Asia-Laos has reported that there were at least 11 shootings or bombings in central Laos between November 2015 and January 2016. RFA-L cited a retired military source as saying that that an armed anti-government group was responsible for the violence, raising the possibility of a drawn-out conflict.
The uptick in violence, particularly violence targeting Chinese workers, could spell trouble for Beijing’s investment plans in Laos. As Samuel Ku recently noted for the East Asia Forum, China has stepped up its investments in Laos in recent years, funding a new highway and railway connecting China’s Yunnan Province with Laos and beyond.
Beijing also just signed an agreement for a cross-border economic cooperation zone in Laos – but an earlier attempt to establish a similar zone at the same site was shuttered in 2009 “due to escalating criminal activities,” Ku notes. Should the violence in northern and central Laos continue, China’s projects in the country might once again be put on hold.