Power Play

In the Asian connectivity race, China and rivals find it hard to connect

Despite the rhetoric, it has been tough to achieve real complementarity, whether it’s between development partners’ and host countries’ objectives, or between development partners themselves

Passengers boarding the Laos-China Railway train at Vientiane station. PHOTO: ST FILE
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BANGKOK - On Dec 3, one year after the launch of the US$5.9 billion (S$7.99 billion) Laos-China Railway, its management staged a lavish celebration outside the Vientiane passenger terminus. It unveiled a much-awaited mobile ticketing application, stacked with payment options through Chinese platforms – UnionPay, WeChat Pay and Alipay. But a payment option through Laos’ state-owned Banque Pour Le Commerce Exterieur Lao Public was not on the list.

This omission by the Chinese majority-owned railway company underscored the kinds of hurdle faced by South-east Asian countries attempting to introduce some cohesion to projects often funded and controlled by a multitude of external parties. Chief among them is China, which, through its Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), has backed high-profile developments such as the Laos-China Railway, Cambodia’s Phnom Penh-Sihanoukville Expressway, and Indonesia’s Jakarta-Bandung high-speed railway.

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