Laos in danger of losing jobs and culture as Chinese pour in

Source: Global Times

A friend living in Vientiane recently complained of incessant noise next to her house where a Chinese gang was busy constructing a new feeder road.

None of the residents had been consulted. The residents are afraid that asphalt will bring speed and accidents.  To the slower paced Laotians, the Chinese are unwelcome. “Why can’t Laotians do that work? Who asked if we wanted this road?” one onlooker asked. Good questions.

Laos in danger of losing jobs and culture as Chinese pour in 

Across Laos, Chinese laborers are building huge malls, dams, factories, golf courses and airports, taking jobs that could easily done by Laotians. Tiny Laos with its population of over 6 million is being made to look increasingly like China. Many Chinese projects dispossess Laotians of their land. The Laotians need the work.

There is no question that the Chinese have always been in Laos, but it is the massive increase in numbers, influence and visibility that are causing concern.

A few weeks ago, the New York Times drew approbation over a story they did on what was to be the joint China-Laos railway project. Hidden in the story is the threat that Laotians are increasingly naming; colonization by stealth, and with that, a commodification of Lao culture. 

In the story, the Chinese hotel owner was waiting for the floods of his countrymen into Laos to complete the circle of purchase and profit. The Laotians are increasingly left with nowhere to go.

Hidden below the grandiose plans are the subtle corrosion of what it means to be Laotian. China, which guards its own heritage and ancestry, is seemingly happy to destroy that belonging to others. 

The traditional Lao skirts are being replaced by cheap mass-produced synthetic skirts made by machines in China, marginalizing both the weavers – whose work makes significant contributions to village incomes – and the fabric’s cultural meaning.  

Some of Vientiane’s best loved colonial buildings are slated for demolition. The National Museum is, perhaps ironically, to be replaced by a 20-story five-star hotel. 

Chinese projects are operated under a Godfather model. There is no competitive bidding or tendering process.  Instead, concessions are given by political insiders for various favors.
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