Exclusive interview with Chairman of the Lao Chinese Chamber of Commerce Yao Bin.

BEIJING , Sept. 21, 2023 /PRNewswire/ — This is a report from China Report ASEAN:

On December 3, 2021, the China-Laos Railway, a flagship project of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), officially began operation. As of August 16, 2023, the cross-border railway had made a total of 20.09 million passenger trips including 17.09 million in the Chinese section and 3 million in the Laos section, which has significantly boosted the port economy, cross-border tourism, and cultural and people-to-people exchanges between China and Laos.

In just two years of operation, the China-Laos Railway has played an important role in promoting bilateral trade and the development of the Lao economy. The future full completion of the China-Laos-Thailand Railway will further open regional logistics and tap new development potential.

On this topic, China Report ASEAN conducted an exclusive interview with Yao Bin, chairman of the Lao Chinese Chamber of Commerce.

China Report ASEAN: How significant has the China-Laos Railway been?

Yao Bin: Completion of the China-Laos Railway has had a great impact on Laos. It has also played an exemplary role in Southeast Asia. Previously, Laos only had a 3.5-kilometer meter-gauge railway, which was slow and noisy with a small capacity. Today, Laos is taking a ride on the train of China’s high-tech development, empowering passengers to enjoy a comfortable travel experience on the smooth high-speed rail. It has been a great leap forward to a new era of railway travel.

Completion of the China-Laos Railway will boost tourism and bring more tourists to both countries and even Thailand. Operation of the railway has made it more convenient and comfortable to travel, which will not only boost the long-term development of the tourism industry, but also strengthen in-depth exchanges among the peoples of China, Laos, Thailand, and other countries.

Meanwhile, operation of the China-Laos Railway has also brought great convenience for freight transport. A huge volume of goods are transported between China, Laos, Thailand, and other Southeast Asian countries. For example, a large number of durians are transported to the Chinese market. The traditional methods of transport are by sea, which takes a long time, or air, which costs a lot. In contrast, transporting fruit by rail is economical and relatively fast. The low cost and high speed can help preserve the fruit as well. Another example is transportation of the mineral potash from Laos to the Chinese market. The traditional routes by sea and road transport are very expensive. Rail transport will significantly reduce the cost.

Laos used to be a landlocked country. Operation of the China-Laos Railway has transformed it into a land-linked country connected to China and other Southeast Asian countries. It has radically changed the logistics structure and freight mode of Laos.

China Report ASEAN: What do you think can be done to make the China-Laos Railway more effective?

Yao: I think that if the existing single track railway was upgraded into a double track railway, the freight and passenger capacity would rise significantly and facilitate even more economic and social benefits.

China Report ASEAN: What opportunities do you think the China-Laos Railway can bring for the economic development of Laos?

Yao: The China-Laos Railway has a big role to play in driving the economic development of Laos. I can cite a few ways: First, the railway connects Laos with China and Thailand, which will help Laos boost its economic and trade cooperation with China and Thailand. Second, the railway will help to balance trade between China and Laos. The traditional mode has involved exporting Chinese industrial products to Laos and Laos agricultural products such as fruits and cassava to China. Operation of the railway makes it feasible for a greater volume of mineral resources to be exported from Laos to China for deep processing, which will balance the trade in goods between the two countries. Third, it will be beneficial for the development of agriculture. With the operation of the railway, more people will come to Laos to invest in agriculture, not only in crop farming, but also in the deep processing of food, which will add value to agricultural products, create more jobs, increase tax revenues, and foster greater foreign exchange in the country. Completion of the railway has turned Laos into an important transportation hub and fostered unlimited opportunities for the development of the country.

China Report ASEAN: Who is investing more in Laos, China or ASEAN member states?

Yao: Laos and China are neighbors connected by mountains and rivers. With this geographical advantage, Laos has been a passageway or springboard for Chinese companies to enter the markets of the Southeast Asian countries. I think that of all the investors in Laos, Chinese investors outnumber those from the other ASEAN member states. There’s a huge market backing the Chinese investors. For example, there’s a relatively large demand for agricultural products in the Chinese market. Chinese businesspeople can import them from Laos. Meanwhile, they can transport Chinese gasoline and diesel by rail to Laos to meet the demand for energy here.

Completion of the China-Laos Railway will promote development of the Lao economy as a whole. My Lao friends have told me that they like the new railway. It has become a bright spot in ChinaLaos cooperation. Many people are now aware that the China-Laos Railway is a fast, safe, and comfortable way of travel. Travelers no longer have to worry about the dangers of roads winding through tall mountains nor about flash floods, mudslides, and other natural disasters that occur in the mountains. The China-Laos Railway has already increased local mobility considerably.

China Report ASEAN: This year marks the 10th anniversary of the BRI. What do you think of the achievements of the Belt and Road cooperation between China and Laos and other ASEAN countries over the last decade?

Yao: Over the last 10 years, the BRI has created many development opportunities for countries along the route, which is obvious to all. This is especially true for Laos, a close neighbor of China, which, as an old Chinese saying goes, “gets a better view of the rising moon at a waterfront pavilion.” This “rising moon” is first and foremost the newly built China- Laos Railway, with which Laos has significantly upgraded its national economy. Operation of the railway has brought real benefits to the Lao people, who now have higher expectations for the country’s development. Laos is enjoying brighter prospects to develop from an agricultural country into an industrial powerhouse. The results have been achieved under the BRI principle of “wide consultation, joint contributions, and shared benefit” and produced an important manifestation of a ChinaLaos community with a shared future. The BRI is a proposal with extraordinary vision that benefits the people directly. We are all witnesses and beneficiaries of the initiative.