China and Laos Officially Open High-Speed Railway

Image Credit: REUTERS/Phoonsab Thevongsa

China and Laos have officially opened a high-speed railway (KA) with a total investment value of US$ 6 billion on Friday (3/12). The railway line that connects the Bamboo Curtain country with several of its neighbors in Southeast Asia is a milestone in China’s infrastructure planning, namely the Belt and Road Initiative.

The inauguration ceremony was held virtually and attended by Chinese President Xi Jinping and Laotian President Thongloun Sisoulith, to mark the inaugural journey on a route that stretches from the city of Kunming in southwest China to the Laotian capital, Vientiane.

China – which holds a 70% stake in the joint venture project signed in 2015 – hopes that the 1,000km line will eventually be extended through Thailand and Malaysia to Singapore.

In a video meeting between the two leaders on Friday morning, Xi said the countries had stood at the starting point of a new history.

“China is willing to strengthen strategic communication with Laos, promote the high-quality development of the Belt and Road Initiative, and continue to build an unbreakable China-Laos community in a shared future,” he said in comments published by Chinese broadcaster CCTV. 

But economists warn that the rail project could make it difficult for communist-leaning Laos, also one of Asia’s poorest countries, to pay its foreign debts. Moreover, most of the government’s debt comes from China.

Previously, Laos state news agency KPL reported on Thursday (2/12) that the project was part of the government’s strategy to transform Laos from a landlocked country to a land-connected nation.

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