The limits of Chinese expansionism
China's fast growing capital expansion within South East Asia is raising concerns about landgrabs and exploitative practices, especially as it is often aligned with support for authoritarian regimes such as Burma.
In northern Laos, China's expansion is especially visible in the mountainous areas south of Boten, where once forested areas have been cleared for monoculture rubber plantations managed by Chinese companies. Those companies frequently receive tax waivers and subsidies from Beijing as part of a wider policy to combat opium cultivation and better integrate remote Lao and Myanmar border areas into wider regional markets, according to the Transnational Institute (TNI), a Netherlands-based international network of researchers and activists.
In a November briefing paper, TNI wrote that while "initially informal smallholder arrangements were the dominant form of [rubber] cultivation in Laos, the top down coercive model is gaining prevalence" and that "the poorest of the poor ... benefit least from these investments. The study also noted that many Lao agrarians "were losing access to land and forest" and "were being forcibly relocated to lowland areas that offered few viable options for survival" to make way for Chinese plantations.
TNI concluded that "new forms of conflict are arising from Chinese large-scale investments" in both Laos and Myanmar and that "related land dispossession has wide implications on drug production and trade, as well as border stability." It claimed that China's approach "is perceived by the local communities and international development agencies as for profit only, and they question the sustainability of the Chinese approach. The image of the Chinese government and people in these regions has consequently suffered."
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