Saturday, January 1, 2022

Boten: A Ghost Town waits to be waked up by China-Laos-Railway

A video from July 2020 shows the development of Boten (Chinese: 磨丁, Lao: ບໍ່ເຕ່ນ) town in northern Laos, at the border between Laos and China: Many highrisebuildings, some finished, some under construction - but only a few people on the streets and in the shops. Millions of dollars have been invested in this Special Economic Zone (SEZ) in Laos by Chinese companies, in anticipation of the construction of China-Laos-Railway. The railway in both countries is now finished, but still the border is closed for passengers due to the Covid-19 pandemic. The investors will have to wait longer for the return of investment - if it will arrive ever.

The plans for the new Boten city (sometimes written Borten) are centered around an international finance centre in a cluster of 20-storey towers and a 30-plus-storey International Trade Centre. They aim at attracting nternational commerce and finance, international duty-free logistics and assembly, international education and medical industry and international services. Residential housing is dimensioned for 300,000 people. This at the location of a once small and sleepy rural village nestled in agricultural fields and surrounded by mountains covered by tropical forests. Promoting this new city is Haicheng, a private real estate development company headquartered in Kunming, where it has built commercial and residential properties. Since 2016 Haicheng has got a 90-year land lease. It has already invested around US$1 billion, completed 80% of land clearance, 258,526 m2 of commercial and residential real estate and is planning to invest a total of US$ 10 billion and complete the project over 10–15 years. This we can read in the publication "The BRI and Urbanisation" (February 2021) by Research Gate. Se this promotion video.

Much of Haicheng’s investment in Boten has come from bank loans made by the China–Laos Bank, a joint venture between a Laotian state bank and the Yunnan Fudian Bank, say the authors of Research Gate. Jinxin Fertility Group, a private healthcare company with hospitals in China, has recently acquired the first medical facility in Boten, the Rhea International Medical Centre, and plans to upgrade it for dealing with COVID-19 patients.

For now Boten has attracted mostly Chinese corporate and individual investors who have purchased the bulk of the completed commercial and residential properties. And a flood of Chinese workers and entrepreneurs have come to Boten, notes Murray Hiebert in his book "Under Beijing's Shadow: Southeast Asia's China Challenge". He also notes that Lao people are only hired if they speak Chinese.

Docoumentary Photographer Nicholas Bosoni shows the rising of the new city in his essay "Boten: the renaissance of Laos' Golden city".
Get impressions of Boten City by these pictures on Instagram:

The railway station in Boten:

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