Construction of a Chinese-built high-speed railway in Laos has been put off at the last minute due to a contract dispute and an incomplete project assessment, according to an official from the country’s Public Works Bureau.
The Lao official, who asked to remain anonymous, said construction, which was to begin on April 25, has been delayed indefinitely.
“Construction of the railway has not begun yet. It’s postponed, and I don’t know when it will begin,” the official said.
“It has been delayed because the contract must be amended. Also, the study is taking longer than expected. When they plan to build it, they will notify my office,” she said.
The 300-mile (481-kilometer) railway will connect Laos to neighbors Thailand and China at a cost of U.S. $7 billion, 70 percent of which will be provided by China.
A recent investigation uncovered rampant corruption in China’s Ministry of Railways which led to the removal of longtime minister Liu Zhijun in February for what state media reported as “severe violations of discipline.”
A widening scandal in March left detractors questioning the scope of Beijing’s plans to build a network of domestic and international high-speed railways.
But none of these developments seem to concern the Lao government, which in January urged consultants to speed up social and environmental impact studies to get the project underway.
Trains will run at a speed of 125 miles-per-hour (200 kilometers-per-hour) from Boten, on the border of China’s Yunnan province, to the Lao capital of Vientiane.
Plans are already underway to relocate villagers who will be affected by the construction.
Under the agreement signed between China and Laos last year, the Lao government is required to compensate villagers and urban dwellers who will need to be relocated from their land.
The compensation plan represents the Lao government’s 30 percent stake in the project.
But residents have expressed doubts about whether they will receive a fair amount of compensation from authorities.
The train line will act as a link for passengers and freight traveling to and from Kunming, the capital of Yunnan province.
China also has an agreement with Thailand to build a high-speed 530-mile (850-kilometer) railway between Nongkhai on the border between Laos and Thailand and Bangkok.
Both routes would make up part of the Trans-Asian Railway Project, a United Nations plan to create an integrated freight railway network across Europe and Asia.
China has been aggressively shopping railway contracts around the world, most recently winning a U.S. $13 billion deal to build lines in Iran and a partnership to construct a high-speed rail in Kazakhstan.
Reported by RFA’s Lao service. Translated by Bounchanh Mouangkham. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.