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China-Laos Railway improves livelihoods, brings people closer
2023-11-30 10:25

LUANG PRABANG, Laos – The China-Laos Railway has eased the movement of people and goods, boosted tourism, and attracted foreign investment to Laos under the guidance of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), ASEAN business leaders and people from China and Laos agree.

On Tuesday morning, aboard a China-Laos Railway train traveling from Vientiane, Laos’ capital, to Kunming in Yunnan province, southwest China, a tour group leader surnamed Xu, who had just completed a 6-day tour of Laos organized by a tourism agency from Yunnan, said that Laos has become increasingly popular among Chinese tourists since the opening of the railway.

She told China Daily that the 32-strong tour group departed from Kunming and traveled by train, visiting Luang Prabang, Wanrong, and Vientiane, all of which are major stops on the rail link.

Xu said they enjoyed cultural and historical attractions like palaces and temples, as well as natural sites like the Blue Lagoon.

Spanning an impressive 1,035 kilometers, the electrified China-Laos Railway connects Kunming with Vientiane, slashing travel time between the two cities to just over 10 hours, including customs clearance procedures. 

The railway, a major infrastructure project under the BRI, started running in December 2021 and introduced cross-border passenger services in April 2023, enabling bullet trains to seamlessly traverse the border.

By August this year, the rail link, since December 2021, has carried over 19 million passengers and 23 million tons of goods, according to Shi Zhongjun, secretary general of the ASEAN-China Centre, said on Monday that Laos possesses unique ethnic charm and abundant tourism resources. In recent years, cities like Luang Prabang and Vientiane have been gaining increasing recognition by Chinese and international tourists. 

He mentioned that prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, the number of Chinese tourists visiting Laos had exceeded one million in 2019. With the recent launch of a cross-border tourist train relying on the China-Laos Railway, tourism cooperation between the two nations is expected to flourish.

By August this year, the rail link, since December 2021, has carried over 19 million passengers and 23 million tons of goods, according to Shi. 

Shi added that bilateral trade between China and Laos has surged, reaching $4.98 billion in the first nine months of this year, with a remarkable growth rate of 23.7 percent compared with the same period last year. 

He expressed optimism that the China-Laos Railway will serve as a new channel for international land and sea trade, facilitating international multimodal transport operations and connecting with China-Europe freight trains. 

He emphasized the importance of expanding logistics services to other ASEAN countries and exploring complementary industrial cooperation, such as logistics warehousing and industrial parks along the line.

Thongsavanh Phyathep, chargé d’Affaires of the Embassy of the Lao PDR in China, acknowledged China’s role as one of the top investors in Laos, attributing this to significant cooperative projects like the China-Laos Railway and highway developments. 

He said bilateral trade and the transportation of goods have grown steadily, with Laos importing machinery, vehicles, and other goods from China while exporting agricultural products. 

The rail link has also assisted other collaborative projects under the BRI, such as  the Laos Vientiane Saysettha Development Zone (SDZ), a state-level joint project initiated by China and Laos.

SDZ has attracted numerous investors, creating job opportunities for local people since the opening of the China-Laos Railway in 2021. 

Up to now, the SDZ has successfully wooed 131 companies from countries and regions including China, Japan, and Singapore, with a total investment exceeding $1.5 billion, while creating 6,000 jobs. The zone is expected to create an annual output value exceeding $1.8 billion and provide over 10,000 jobs once all the companies in the zone come into full operation. 

One of the zone’s foremost tenants is SK Agarwood Biotechnology (Laos) Sole Co., Ltd., a Chinese company engaged in agarwood and lemongrass cultivation. 

Guo Bo, who heads up the company, said it has created over 400 local jobs, in positions of cultivating, peeling, transporting, and selling products.

He said that the SDZ provides great convenience to Chinese enterprises in terms of initial document processing, procedural approvals, and comprehensive property services during their establishment period in the zone.

He said the SDZ has created an interconnected platform for Chinese enterprises to expand their business in Laos and the broader ASEAN region. With the China-Laos Railway and other transportation infrastructure projects under the BRI, logistics and trade have become more efficient and cost-effective, enabling Chinese businesses to access new markets and strengthen economic ties with Laos.

See Yathortou, a Lao resident who works in the industrial park, is a graduate of the Chinese Department at a Laotian national university. 

“My life has changed greatly since working here. I not only earn a living, but also learn new things and how to deal with problems, which has made my life more worthwhile,” Yathortou said. 

He has got into the habit of taking a walk or playing sports after a long day’s work, taking advantage of the park’s well-established transportation network. 

Working in the industrial park is also very convenient as many factories provide accommodation and meals, and there are also many restaurants and convenience stores, he said. 

Zhao Wenyu, the commercial counsellor of the Chinese Embassy in Laos, said the implementation of preferential policies such as the relaxation of rules of the imported products’ origin to allow reduction of tax and high-level trade and investment facilitation arrangements will fully tap into Laos’ advantages in terms of location and further open up new opportunities for mutually beneficial cooperation between China and Laos, as well as for the development of China-ASEAN economic and trade cooperation.

Among these new policies are the 98 percent product tax exemption offered by China for the least developed regions, including Laos, Zhao said. 

Yao Ronggen, a representative from Zhejiang, who came to Laos to explore investment opportunities, told China Daily that he saw rapid expansion of the mining industry in Laos. 

In the long run, investing in power generation such as hydroelectric, solar, and wind power is feasible because with the development of industry and agriculture, the demand for electricity will continue to grow, Yao said.


Source: China Daily


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