Laos’ big China-backed projects bring debt and hurt the poor: Expert

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Laos’ Big China-backed Projects Bring Debt And Hurt The Poor: Expert

A United Nations human rights expert has urged communist-ruled Laos to focus less on foreign-invested dam and railway contracts and devote more resources to helping its children and the poor.

The UN rapporteur on poverty, Philip Alston, at a news conference in Vientiane on March 28 said that Laos’ impoverished economy could only thrive if its leaders do a better job of educating and caring for all of its people. The current strategy of favoring big-ticket projects with Chinese investors and granting big concessions for land and other resources favors a wealthy elite and is leaving many others behind, he said.

While the Southeast Asian nation has seen “remarkable” economic growth over the last two decades, a focus on foreign investment-led infrastructure projects has created too few jobs and generated large debt repayment obligations, he said.

“The policies pursued so far are very one-sided, and many of them have exacerbated, rather than improved the conditions of the people,” Alston said,

“They have generated a large number of landless people who have endured forced resettlement, inadequate compensation and highly problematic livelihoods after they have been evicted,” he noted.

His remarks add to a chorus of concern over China’s push for big construction projects linked to its “Belt and Road” initiative, which is aimed at weaving a global network of transport and trade that is integrated with its own economy and industries.

“Those concessions potentially cover something like 40 per cent of the national territory and many if not most of those concessions have produced very few returns to the national budget,” he said, adding that “they have generated very little real revenue that can be spent on the wellbeing of the Lao people and of course they have led to widespread dispossession.”

He also noted that women in Laos were largely shut out of decision making and that the ethnic minorities who make up nearly half of the population were “severely deprived” by nearly every measure, with low incomes and inferior access to education and health care.

A Lao foreign ministry official, Phetvanxay Khousakoun, objected to Alston’s comments.

“Some of that information that you received might be biased. Also, NGOs might have hidden agendas. This might provide you some misperceptions about Laos,” he said, arguing that “these are rather small groups of people that do not reflect the entire country.”

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A United Nations human rights expert has urged communist-ruled Laos to focus less on foreign-invested dam and railway contracts and devote more resources to helping its children and the poor. The UN rapporteur on poverty, Philip Alston, at a news conference in Vientiane on March 28 said that Laos’ impoverished economy could only thrive if its leaders do a better job of educating and caring for all of its people. The current strategy of favoring big-ticket projects with Chinese investors and granting big concessions for land and other resources favors a wealthy elite and is leaving many others behind, he...

Reading Time: 2 minutes

Laos’ Big China-backed Projects Bring Debt And Hurt The Poor: Expert

A United Nations human rights expert has urged communist-ruled Laos to focus less on foreign-invested dam and railway contracts and devote more resources to helping its children and the poor.

The UN rapporteur on poverty, Philip Alston, at a news conference in Vientiane on March 28 said that Laos’ impoverished economy could only thrive if its leaders do a better job of educating and caring for all of its people. The current strategy of favoring big-ticket projects with Chinese investors and granting big concessions for land and other resources favors a wealthy elite and is leaving many others behind, he said.

While the Southeast Asian nation has seen “remarkable” economic growth over the last two decades, a focus on foreign investment-led infrastructure projects has created too few jobs and generated large debt repayment obligations, he said.

“The policies pursued so far are very one-sided, and many of them have exacerbated, rather than improved the conditions of the people,” Alston said,

“They have generated a large number of landless people who have endured forced resettlement, inadequate compensation and highly problematic livelihoods after they have been evicted,” he noted.

His remarks add to a chorus of concern over China’s push for big construction projects linked to its “Belt and Road” initiative, which is aimed at weaving a global network of transport and trade that is integrated with its own economy and industries.

“Those concessions potentially cover something like 40 per cent of the national territory and many if not most of those concessions have produced very few returns to the national budget,” he said, adding that “they have generated very little real revenue that can be spent on the wellbeing of the Lao people and of course they have led to widespread dispossession.”

He also noted that women in Laos were largely shut out of decision making and that the ethnic minorities who make up nearly half of the population were “severely deprived” by nearly every measure, with low incomes and inferior access to education and health care.

A Lao foreign ministry official, Phetvanxay Khousakoun, objected to Alston’s comments.

“Some of that information that you received might be biased. Also, NGOs might have hidden agendas. This might provide you some misperceptions about Laos,” he said, arguing that “these are rather small groups of people that do not reflect the entire country.”

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