Laos and Pakistan stole the show at the 2017 South and Southeast Asia Commodity Expo and Investment Fair here as China deepened its One Belt and One Road (OBOR) initiative with the region.
The fair took place from June 1318 at 17 exhibition halls with 8,000 stands that included special themes for Pakistan, Laos, South Asia and Asean. Thailand didn’t have an outstanding presence but came with about 170 small and medium enterprises under the “Top Thai Brands” theme led by Singha Corp.
But Yunnan’s neighbour Laos stole the limelight as the host’s “Guest of Honour”. From a political standpoint, it had two ministers present. As a business proposition, it came up with an impressive presentation of opportunities under the Vientiane Saysettha Development Zone, locatฌed close to capital Vientiane. From a cultural view, its dancers charmed visitors at the exhibition.
Laos’s construction of its railway network, as part of OBOR, is underway. The rail lines, due for completion in 2021, will come from Yunnan, the only Chinese province which connects Southeast Asia and South Asia by land. Its strategic designation on OBOR will add to the recently opened oil pipeline from Myanmar and already-operating rail lines to Vietnam.
Laos’s enthusiasm for the OBOR rail network, which is designed to link up with a Chinese-sponsored new rail route in Thailand so it can reach the deepsea port at Laem Chabang, was very evident. “It’s an opportunity for Laos to transform from “landlocked to landlinked”, said the head of the Laotian delegation.
“China and Laos are linked not by some mountains but we are also good neighbours, comrades and partners,” he told thousands of delegates at the opening ceremony.
China is the biggest foreign investor in Laos with 767 projects worth US$7 billion, 47 per cent of which come from Yunnan.
Laos also chaired the first China-Southeast Asia Business Forum, which took place on the sidelines of the fair and was attended by 600 business leaders and officials.
Pakistan also made a splash as the “country of honour”. Its ambitious partnership with China is known as the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, whose loan amount topped $51 billion recently. Yunnan plays a role as China’s Southwest gateway to the South Asian nation.
Pakistan came as part of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation Chamber of Commerce to the fair. The chamber’s president, Suraj Vaidya, said South Asia is at a turning point with potential for infrastructure development, having 26 per cent of world’s youth population, and billions of dollars worth of untapped potential.
The head of the Pakistani delegation underscored her country’s relations with China, describing it as “transcends the complexity of global chaos of international relations”. The economic corridor will herald a new era and benefit billions of people, she said.
Liu Qi Ling, vice chairman of the investment fair, said activities at the event were designed to deepen China and Yunnan’s roles in OBOR, describing them as newly setup platฌforms, including health and biophamacy, fashion, human resources development – in all 18 sideline activities.
China is also plunging into services with an announcement to provide consultant services in legal and other business matters as well as arbitration to step up the dynamic of OBOR with Southeast and South Asia.
Also participating in the fair were some key Yunnan players in the region: the railway agency, an energy company, an investment company and Ocean University of China which is keen to tap into the Maritime Silk Road.
One senior Chinese official told the delegates that China wants to speed up with practical business takeaways at the fair, make efficient use of resources and deepen market integration. “We want to cultivate a new momentum and [together] we can move mountains and build consensus.”