Nick Freeman

Nick Freeman

Associate Fellow, Myanmar Studies Programme, ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute

Nick Freeman is Associate Fellow in the Myanmar Studies Programme at ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute and is an independent development consultant. He received his doctorate from the University of Bradford and his current research interests include the political economy of Myanmar.

This photo on 26 November 2021 shows journalists gathered at a train station in Kunming to join a preview ride on the China-Laos railway, which is set to start operating in early December 2021. (CNS)

Laos hopes for economic boost with the opening of Laos-China Railway

ISEAS academic Nick Freeman says that Laos’ first major railway, inaugurated on 3 December 2021, will create a new link with the Chinese market and has the potential to be a game changer for the Lao economy. This comes at a good time, as Laos seeks post-pandemic recovery in 2022. But the opening of the railway alone does not guarantee such a prospect. While the railway might boost industries such as tourism and exports, leading to a shift away from traditional sectors such as power generation and mineral mining, Laos needs to develop economic "muscle tissue" to ensure that the potential of the railway is translated into tangible results through investing in both hard and soft infrastructure.
A worker on-site the China-Laos railway project, 2 December 2019. (Xinhua)

Laos’ high-speed railway coming round the bend

China's latest BRI railway project through Laos, connecting northern Thailand to China's southwestern province of Yunnan, has the potential to facilitate China's shipment of goods to the markets of mainland Southeast Asia. However, international attention is focused on the more than US$1.5 billion combined debt exposure that Laos has racked up for the railway project, with the prospect of national resources such as "underground mineral resources" being used as collateral for loan financing. Time will tell if the economic benefits for Laos will outweigh the costs.