tirsdag 28. mai 2019

Scorched Earth Development in Northern Laos: A look at dam, Belt and Road, and SEZ projects in “the battery of Southeast Asia.”

In April 2019 I traveled through northwest Laos to check in on the current state of several cross-border development projects, including the now-completed Namtha dam, the Golden Triangle Special Economic Zone (SEZ), and the construction of a high-speed railway from the Chinese border to Vientiane, part of China’s global Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).

Since my last visit to this area three years before, the exponential acceleration of industrial development had become a de facto scorched earth policy. Entire mountains were raked away, and rectilinear geometries were imposed upon this land of jungled hills. The new railway was gashed through the landscape, covering villages with dust, drilling tunnels through mountains, and erecting obelisk-like structures to raise train tracks above the earth. The SEZ, which had been a garish but slightly ridiculous bubble of development cash on the Mekong, had now conflagrated into a hustling clot of tenement blocks, with a 30-story casino tower of glass and gold at the center, crude metal cages still holding tigers and bears in a “zoo”-cum-3D menu for wildlife cuisine.