Development and Urbanization
Like elsewhere in Southeast Asia and beyond, northern Laos has been witnessing an ever-growing Chinese geo-economic presence, ranging from large-scale resource extraction, Special Economic Zones (SEZ) to rapidly expanding infrastructure projects. Looking exemplarily at the townscapes of Luang Namtha and Muang Sing in northwest Laos, unprecedented Chinese urban structures of supermarkets, hospitals, clinics, hotels, guesthouses, entertainment venues, restaurants or car repair shops became ubiquitously visible.
However, this paper aims to go beyond the burgeoning scholarship on Chinese “enclaves” and “instant cities” (Nyíri 2012, 2017; Tan 2017) which supposedly undermine or “commodify” Laos’ national sovereignty in exceptional spaces such as SEZs (Laungaramsri 2015), indicating China’s “soft extraterritoriality” (Lyttleton and Nyíri 2011). I propose a more nuanced research on everyday encounters –involving a diverse range of both Chinese and Lao actors—in rather ordinary localities and settings. I will pay closer attention to ways whereby Chinese newcomers, more established Chinese residents, Lao dwellers of Chinese descent or other ethnicities imagine, articulate and concretely live this Chinese presence on the ground, which do not necessarily exclusively entail antagonism. I am particularly interested in how they engage with and discursively translate larger Chinese ideological vocabularies and visions of modernity, development, globalisation (i.e. “globalisation with Chinese characteristics” zhongguo tese quanqiuhua) as well as infrastructural connectivity, recently formulated as the “One Belt One Road” (yidai yilu) initiative. In doing this, this study hopes to contribute to a more profound understanding of local quotidian borderland realities variably affected by, and responding to, increasingly influential Chinese global aspirations.