A Chinese company signed an agreement with the Lao government to study the prospect of developing 5,000 hectares of land in the southern Lao province of Attapeu, raising concerns among residents that investors would take more land over time. , destroying the livelihoods of local people, Lao sources said.
A provincial official told RFA’s Lao Service, a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) signed on April 7 allows China’s Jia Run Company to carry out feasibility studies within the next six months on the land in Sanamxay district. by Attapeu.
“The Chinese have repeatedly visited many lands along the border with the Pathumphone and Paksong districts,” said an official with the Attapeu Provincial Department of Agriculture and Forestry.
“They plan to plant crops of commercial value, such as eucalyptus, durian and jackfruit,” added the official, who declined to be named.
The agreement, signed in the capital Vientiane, between the Chairman of Jia Run and Khamchanh Vongsaenboun, Deputy Minister of Planning and Investment of Laos, allows the current Jia Run Company to invest up to one billion yuan ($ 152 million). ) for project development, according to state media reports.
The company also plans to employ 50,000 Laotians and build 20 schools and 20 health centers for the local community, state media said.
Speaking to RFA after the deal was announced, villagers in Sanamxay district expressed doubts about the benefits the project has promised to locals, saying that China’s promises are rarely kept.
“This project will definitely affect our livelihoods and the environment,” said one district resident. “For example, a 3,000-hectare Chinese plantation of sugarcane and banana in this area of Pindong village in Sanamxay at first said that they would hire local villagers to work.”
“But they never do,” he said. “They just take the land.”
If the Lao government now gives this new land rights to a Chinese investor, that company will eventually take all the land and forests in the district, leaving locals with nothing to rely on for food, he said. .
“We just found out that the government is going to hand this land over to the Chinese people,” said another district resident. “Now we worry that the developer will also take our land, rice fields and vegetable gardens.”
“If that happens, we won’t have land to cultivate. All we can do is work for the Chinese people, ”he said.
‘They get what they want’
A third resident in the same district said it would currently not be able to object to the project, despite public concerns.
“If they want the land anywhere in Laos, they will take it, because they have a lot of money,” said the villagers, also asking not to use their names out of fear for safety. all by yourself.
“But what can we do? They take the land not just here, but across the country.”
However, a shop owner in Sanamxay said he supports China’s planned project and added, “I want to see more investment, as much as possible.”
“Investing more will bring in more businesses, and that’s how our country will grow. In this way, our people will have jobs and income, ”he said.
Get soil, pollution
Much of Laos’ recent economic growth has been generated through the concession of land to China, Thailand and Vietnam to exploit natural resources including timber, agricultural products, minerals and energy. But the policies have caused friction in cases of environmental pollution and land being taken away without adequate compensation.
Lao villagers affected by land grabs are often afraid to speak openly about their concerns because they fear being punished officially.
Reports have risen in recent years about growing resentment in Laos over China’s business presence and influence in the country, with several Chinese language schools opening up in Vientiane for several years. last year as Beijing’s investments in the Southeast Asian nation point to a future where Chinese companies dominate local trade.
Interest is also growing about China’s massive investment in hydroelectric dams, a major railway and other infrastructure projects as part of the Value Belt and Road Initiative. Beijing’s $ 1.3 million.
In September, Laos and a majority Chinese-owned company signed a 25-year concession agreement allowing the company to build and manage Laos’ power grids, including the export of electricity to other countries. neighbors, sources told RFA in previous reports.
Report of the Lao Language Service of RFA. Translation of Max Avary. Written in English by Richard Finney.