China is famous for exporting its mass-produced goods around the world for global consumption. Less well known are its attempts to export its urban ideology. Across the country’s southern border with Laos and Myanmar lie six settlements built by Chinese developers, which operate businesses owned and run by the Chinese. Boten, a town located in northern Laos, is one of them.
Under the special economic zone plan, in 2003 Laos signed a 30-year lease on 4,000 acres of forest to a Chinese development company. The Chinese investors started building a “Golden City” centered on a casino-hotel. Touted as a futuristic hub for trade and tourism, the Golden City ran on Beijing time and made transactions in Chinese yuan, populated by mainly Chinese migrants. There are more than 20000 land concession projects like this one in Laos, one of the poorest countries in the world. Abundant with natural resources, Laos welcome these offers of investment with the promise of foreign technologies, capital and infrastructure development.
Yet less than three years after it opened, the casino was forced to close due to speculation over criminal activity. Without gambling tourism, other businesses could not survive. Most of the Chinese left, only a handful remain and harbour hope that a change will come and the city will be revived. The Golden City, deserted as it is today, remains a monument to the Chinese version of urban modernity.
These images are part of the result of my ongoing fascination with the model of development in Southeast Asia. In the closely knitted community of Southeast Asia, less developed countries often look towards their more affluent neighbours for financial and developmental aid. By documenting phenomenon of this interconnectivity, I am interested in exploring the conflicts between China’s economic vision and the reality of Laotians who have to bear the consequences. My photos aim to bring my audience on a journey of discovery—intellectually, emotionally and imaginatively—about two countries: one flexing its economic muscle in the region and a much smaller one few people would know about.
- May, 2017