Lao residents are voicing increasing annoyance at the appearance in the united kingdom of signboards at business places and building websites written only in Chinese, seeing them as an indicator of their powerful northern neighbor’s growing economic influence in the impoverished one-party communist state.
The signs, sometimes with words written also in Lao however in smaller letters, have been create at restaurants and in shopping malls in Chinese-run special economic zones and at construction websites along the route of a high-speed rail line being created to connect Laos with China, sources say.
Laos, with ambitions to end up being the “Battery of Southeast Asia” has drawn Chinese investment in hydropower dams and other big-ticket projects under Beijing’s $1.3 trillion Belt and Road Initiative to build infrastructure to support trade. China is Laos’ largest foreign investor and aid provider, and its own second-largest trade partner, after Thailand.
Some signs drawing complaints bear the images of the Chinese national flag, one source in the Nga district of the northwestern province of Oudomxay told RFA’s Lao Service on June 25, adding that signs written only in Chinese have been create on large billboards at work websites near his village.
“There should be signs written in the Lao language, too, but these are written only in Chinese,” the origin said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
“They have been set up where they can be seen by many Lao people passing by,” he said.
Signs put up at the locations of rail work in Oudomxay have to be written in both Lao and Chinese, the state from the area office of the Department of Culture and Tourism told RFA.
“They still use both languages,” the official said, adding that she will send an official to Nga district anyway to analyze complaints.
Even on signs where both languages appear, the lettering given in Lao is much smaller, though, a villager in Luang Nam That province’s Luang Nam That district said, calling the dominant use of Chinese an attack on Lao culture.
“Normally, if you do business or [invest in] projects in Laos, you should utilize the Lao language on your own signs. But here, they put up signs mostly in the Chinese language,” he said, adding that authorities in Bokeo province’s Ton Feung district had recently disassembled signs written only in Chinese.
“I would like the authorities to do the same thing here,” that he said.
‘We don’t have any authority there’
Signs create at departmental stores and other small business ventures owned by Chinese organizations in special economic zones are written almost always in Chinese, with Lao language sometimes used but always in lettering too small to be easily read, a villager in Luang Nam Tha’s Boten district said.
“We want the authorities to solve this problem, because Lao people can’t read Chinese signs,” that he said.
Signs as well as other advertising create in the special economic zones would be the responsibility of the concessions’ mostly Chinese owners, though, an official from the Luang Nam Tha province said, adding, “We have gone down there from time to time to investigate complaints.”
“[The owners] print signs within their own country, and when they come to Laos they put them on billboards straight away without using the Lao language. The concession areas are their responsibility, though, and we have no authority there,” that he said.
The Lao-China railway project—now 83 percent complete—is being touted as a boon for the landlocked nation of nearly 7 million people because it is expected to lower the cost of exports and consumer goods while boosting socioeconomic development.
The estimated U.S. $6 billion project, whose construction began in December 2016, is section of a longer rail line that may link China to mainland Southeast Asia under Chinese President Xi Jinping’s massive Belt and Road Initiative.
Early in 2010, the Lao Ministry of Labor and Social Welfare reported that there were a complete of 16,000 rail workers in the united kingdom, including 11,500 Chinese with the remaining Lao.
Reported by RFA’s Lao Service. Translated by Sidney Khotpanya. Written in English by Richard Finney.