Laos is among the Southeast Asian countries that had engaged China on infrastructure cooperation well before the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) was launched in 2013. Subsequently, Laos has embraced the BRI openly and receptively. Laos's most expensive and controversial project, the Vientiane-Boten railway, is China's signature BRI venture in Laos. The country's BRI engagement also includes special economic zones and unequal partnerships in hydropower, mining, and agricultural projects. To elucidate why Laos embraces the BRI despite the controversies and concerns surrounding the Beijing-backed projects, this essay uses an asymmetry-authority framework to argue that, while power asymmetry entails apprehensions, the Lao ruling elites' political needs to preserve and advance their authority led them to downplay anxieties and instead highlight the benefits of the China-financed projects. The rail venture, in particular, aims to transform Laos from a landlocked country to a "land-linked" one, which will extend connectivity, increase trade, and attract investment, thus enhancing and legitimizing the elites' rule.


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pp. 735-759
Launched on MUSE
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