With Chinese cash in hand, the tiny nation of Laos is planning on starting construction in April of a 481-kilometer, US$7-billion rail line running from Yunnan's Xishuangbanna prefecture, through the the Lao capital, Vientiane and across the Thai border to Nong Khai, according to media reports.
Not only does the impending construction of the 200km/h "medium high-speed" railway cast uncertainty on plans to create a circuitous rail link from Kunming to Bangkok via Vietnam and Cambodia, it is also a powerful symbol of Southeast Asia's growing economic and political ties with China.
But pulling Laos and other nations toward its orbit isn't coming cheap for the Chinese government: Laos will foot only 30 percent of the bill for the rail project. China will also be providing support to the government of Thailand for a new 850km high-speed link between Nong Khai and Bangkok that the two countries are currently negotiating.
Combined with a rail line that is already under construction from Kunming to the Laos border crossing at Mohan, the Laos and Thai lines will complete a rail link from China to Singapore that has long been on Beijing's wish list.
The Lao government's announcement late last year that it would fast-track planning and impact assessment and start construction in April has led some to question whether China will continue with plans to repair and upgrade tracks in Cambodia and create a high speed link to Bangkok through Vietnam and Cambodia.
That more eastern route would be the cheapest way to create a link, according to Asian Development Bank estimates. Those estimates also state that, if built, the line would carry 26 million tons of freight annually by 2025.
The more expensive but more direct new railway to be constructed in mountainous Laos will reportedly have 190km of tunnels and numerous bridges.© Copyright 2005-2017 GoKunming.com all rights reserved. This material may not be republished, rewritten or redistributed without permission.