A $6 billion high-speed rail link linking China with its Southeast Asian neighbor Laos opened on Friday, a major milestone in its ambitious Belt and Road infrastructure plan. of Beijing.
Chinese President Xi Jinping and his Laotian counterpart Thongloun Sisoulith attended a ceremony marking the first leg of a trip spanning from the southwestern Chinese city of Kunming to the Laotian capital Vientiane.
China, which holds a 70% stake in the joint venture project signed in 2015, hopes the 1,000-kilometer (621.37-mile) route will eventually extend through Thailand and Malaysia to Singapore.
During a video meeting between the two leaders earlier on Friday, Mr. Xi said the countries stood at “a new historic starting point”.
“China is willing to strengthen strategic communication with Laos, promote high-quality development of the Belt and Road Initiative, and continue to build an unbreakable China-Laos community with a common future,” he said in comments published by Chinese state broadcaster CCTV.
Economists have warned that the rail project could make it difficult for Laos, one of Asia’s poorest, to pay off foreign debt, much of it owed to China.
Lao state news agency KPL said on Thursday the project is part of the government’s strategy to transform Laos “from a landlocked country into a land-linked country”.