The rapid progress in the China–Laos railway line has made it a poster child of the Belt and Road Initiative. Chinese state media has showcased the project as one that benefits the local people. For instance, a Xinhua article claimed that the railway has created more than 5000 jobs for the local people and ‘changed the lives of local villagers whose dreams have now come true’.
But these reports have glossed over the deeper challenges in constructing the China–Laos railway line. Difficult terrain and geography are the first obstacles that construction companies have faced. They are to construct a total of 170 bridges and 72 tunnels throughout Laos’ mountainous terrain. The enormous volume of unexploded ordnance remaining from the Indochina wars compound the terrain problems. Construction companies have at times suspended construction temporarily to clear unexploded ordnance.