A MONK blesses a train during a Buddhist ceremony in Vientiane one day before the handover ceremony of the high-speed rail project.—Reuters
A MONK blesses a train during a Buddhist ceremony in Vientiane one day before the handover ceremony of the high-speed rail project.—Reuters

VIENTIANE: Laos held a Buddhist ceremony on Thursday to bless its new $6 billion high-speed rail line, a Chinese-led initiative that marks one of the biggest leaps towards modernisation by one of Asia’s least-developed nations.

The rail connects China’s southeastern city of Kunming to the Laos capital Vientiane, stretching more than 1,000 km, and traversing mountains ranges and water systems.

Laos state news agency KPL on Thursday said the project was part of the government’s strategy to convert Laos “from a landlocked country to a land-linked one”.

The rail line, which China hopes to eventually extend to Singapore, is part of its ambitious Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).

On Lao National Day on Thursday, Buddhist monks chanted at a new railway platform and blessed a train car with water and auspicious markings ahead of Friday’s official opening. With a population of 7 million and gross domestic product of just $18 billion in 2019, communist Laos is one of Asia’s poorest nations.

Economists have warned the rail project could complicate its challenges in repaying external debt, much of it to China.

China holds a 70pc stake in the rail joint venture established in 2015.

Total investment was 50.55 billion yuan ($7.93 billion), according to an article by China’s Belt and Road Portal earlier this year. KPL put the value at $5.98 billion.

For Nokphone Photsavang, 35, who works in the hotel sector, the rail project will be a boon for Laos.

“I believe the railway will bring a lot of opportunities and I’m looking forward to the economic growth,” Nokphone said. “It also eases travel between towns and will bring families closer together.”

Published in Dawn, December 3rd, 2021

Opinion

Editorial

Updated 19 May, 2022

To be or not to be

The same decision taken weeks or months from now will have far more devastating consequences.
19 May, 2022

Impact on Punjab

THE Supreme Court judgement interpreting the issue of disqualification of parliamentarians under Article 63A of the...
19 May, 2022

Forest fires

THOUGH spot and forest fires have become a perennial phenomenon especially in peak summer, the recent blazes —...
18 May, 2022

SC on defections

THE judgement is monumental and will significantly influence Pakistani politics for years to come. After a nearly...
18 May, 2022

Karachi blast

THE frequency of urban terrorism incidents over the past few weeks in Karachi should send alarm bells ringing within...
18 May, 2022

Threats to Imran Khan

IT seems there is never a dull moment in Imran Khan’s life. First, it was a cabal of local and international...