Funding for Laos-China Rail Link Hinges on Thai Project

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lao-rail-map-thailand-600.jpg Laos hopes a railway between Vietnam and Thailand and another connecting Thailand and China will help drive socio-economic development in the impoverished country.

Chinese authorities are waiting for Thailand to confirm that it will proceed with a high-speed rail project linking neighboring Laos before Beijing finalizes a loan for Laos to build an ambitious rail link with China, according to a Chinese diplomat.

Thailand plans to build a 625-kilometer (388-mile) rail line between Bangkok and Thailand's northeastern province of Nong Khai along the border with Laos.

It is intended to connect with Laos's proposed U.S. $7.2 billion railway line between its capital Vientiane and the country's Luang Namtha province along the border with China, with the network linked further to a line from Kunming, the capital of China's Yunnan province.

The Lao parliament gave the go-ahead in October last year for the 420-kilometer (261-mile) rail project but there has been little movement to indicate the mega-project will proceed as planned.

A senior official at the Chinese Embassy in Bangkok told RFA's Lao Service that they are waiting for confirmation that the Thai government is going to build a high-speed rail to link Bangkok with Nong Khai before they start negotiating the mammoth loan with Laos.

Another reason cited for the negotiation delay is the new Chinese government’s plan to consolidate its Ministry of Railways and Ministry of Communications and Transport into one entity.

Pledge to proceed

Lao Deputy Prime Minister Somsavat Lengsavad shrugged off fears of a delay in the project at a parliament sitting last week, saying he may go to Beijing next month to discuss funding details.

“We will definitely develop the project,” he told the National Assembly, according to a Vientiane Times report. No details or specific timetable was provided, however.

Last Thursday, Somsavat received the new Chinese Ambassador to Laos.

"I proposed to him that he ask Beijing about my intention to visit there in August for negotiations,” Somsavat told lawmakers.

The deputy premier said that there has been absolute agreement by both sides to develop the project, the Vientiane Times reported.

The planned railway projects would form part of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN)-China rail link beginning in China's Yunnan province and running southwards to Singapore through Laos and Thailand.

In May, Thailand offered to convene a meeting with Laos and China on the high-speed train project linking the three countries, underlining Bangkok's concern that any delay in the project on the Lao side may dampen the regional plan, reports have said.

Reported by RFA's Lao Service. Translated by Viengsay Luangkhot. Written in English by Parameswaran Ponnudurai.


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