Phill Wilcox: China in Laos – (re)thinking development in the Belt and Road era

China in Laos: (re)thinking development in the Belt and Road era

Millions of people across the global South live in a world dominated increasingly by global China. This is especially so since China embarked on the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). Laos is no exception to this, and as an immediate neighbour of China, the impact of global China is pronounced. Laos is also a particularly interesting case study for the rise of China, especially China as a driver of development in the global South, in view of its long history of foreign actors in development. Laos is defined by the UN as a Least Developed Country, a class from which the Lao government has ambitious plans to graduate by 2025. Decades of overseas development aid have aimed to produce a vision of the donor in Laos, often through various initiatives that also aim to strengthen civil society and promote multi-party democracy. Yet now, ideas of how to do development are increasingly contested, as many regard China (with varying degrees of optimism and anxiety) as an alternative vision of what a developed Laos could look like. This paper argues that it is timely to consider again the assumptions and practices of development, and that Laos is an excellent case study to see how ideas of development are, itself, increasingly contested in the era of global China.