China and Laos open $6 billion high-speed rail link

VIENTIANE, Dec 3 (Reuters) – A $6 billion high-speed rail linking China with its Southeast Asian neighbor Laos was inaugurated on Friday, a milestone in ambitious plans to Beijing’s Belt and Road infrastructure.

Chinese President Xi Jinping and his Lao counterpart Thongloun Sisoulith attended a virtual ceremony to mark the inaugural voyages on the line, which stretches from the city of Kunming in southwest China to the Laotian capital Vientiane .

China, which has a 70% stake in the joint venture project signed in 2015, hopes the 1,000 km (621.37 mile) line will eventually stretch through Thailand and Malaysia to Singapore.

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During a video meeting between the two leaders earlier on Friday, Xi said the countries were at “a new historic starting point”.

“China is willing to strengthen strategic communication with Laos, promote the high-quality development of the Belt and Road Initiative, and continue to build an unbreakable China-Laos community with a shared future,” he said. he said in comments published by Chinese state broadcaster CCTV. .

Economists have warned that the rail project could make it difficult for communist Laos, one of Asia’s poorest countries, to repay foreign debt, much of which is owed to China.

The Laos state news agency, KPL, said on Thursday that the project was part of the government’s strategy to convert Laos “from a landlocked country to a land-bound country”. Read more

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Reporting by Phoonsab Thevongsa and Ella Cao; Written by John Geddie; Editing by Mark Heinrich

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Jose P. Rogers