Archive for May, 2011

May 29, 2011

Hydropower development on Mekong river discussed

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Vietnamese News Agency (VNA)

May 27, 2011

Vietnamese, Lao and Cambodian delegates gathered in Hanoi on May 26 to seek ways for the sustainable development of hydropower projects on the mainstream of Mekong river, which runs through China, Myanmar,Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam.

Prof. Doc. Pham Hong Giang, President of the Vietnam National Committee on Large Dams and Water Resources Development said that at the first Mekong Summit last year, Prime Ministers of Cambodia, Laos, Thailand and Vietnam pledged cooperation to maximise the use of water resources andprotect the great value of ecological balance on this river.

The delegates proposed solutions to help downstream countries attainsustainable development, including issues for the Mekong Delta inVietnam that need to be studied.

They also spoke highly of Lao decision to halt the Xayaburi hydropower project on the Mekongriver, saying it offers a chance for Lao and Vietnamese authorities tofurther research within the framework of the Mekong River Commission inorder to establish firm scientific grounds for future decisions onhydropower projects on Mekong river’s mainstream.

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May 28, 2011

Stretch Of I-78 Named In Honor Of Medal Of Honor Recipient (Chief Master Sgt. Richard L. Etchberger Memorial Highway)

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Posted: 1:31 pm EDT.  May 27, 2011

Updated: 6:06 pm EDT .  May 27, 2011

Chief Master Sgt. Richard L. Etchberger

HARRISBURG, Pa. — A man who lost his life during a secret Air Force mission in Laos more than 40 years ago has received another posthumous honor.Pa. Gov. Tom Corbett on Friday signed a bill into law that designates a 12-mile stretch of Interstate 78 in Berks County as the Chief Master Sgt. Richard L. Etchberger Memorial Highway.Etchberger, of Hamburg, died in March 1968 while saving the lives of three wounded comrades during a secret mission in Laos in 1968.Posthumously, the Air Force made him a chief master sergeant, and he was named a Medal of Honor recipient last year. President Obama presented the medal to Etchberger’s three sons during a ceremony at the White House in September.Pa. Sen. David Argall was the prime sponsor of the bill to name I-78, between mile markers 23 and 35, in Etchberger’s honor.The bill received unanimous approval by both the House and the Senate earlier this week.PennDOT will now erect signs along both sides of the highway.

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May 28, 2011

Pennsylvania Governor Corbett Signs Bill Honoring Medal of Honor Recipient


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HARRISBURG, Pa., May 27, 2011 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ — Governor Tom Corbett today signed into law Senate Bill 199, which designates a 12-mile section of Interstate 78 in Berks County as the Chief Master Sgt. Richard L. Etchberger Memorial Highway.

Etchberger, of Hamburg, died in March 1968 while performing secret operations in Laos. Posthumously, the Air Force made him a chief master sergeant and he was named a Medal of Honor recipient last year.

To read the full text of the bill signed into law today, visit the General Assembly’s website at  Or full text below

Media contact:  Kevin Harley, 717-783-1116

SOURCE Pennsylvania Office of the Governor




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No. 199 Session of


1 Designating a portion of Interstate 78 in Berks County as the
2 CMSgt. Richard L. Etchberger Memorial Highway.
3 The General Assembly of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania
4 hereby enacts as follows:
5 Section 1.  The CMSgt. Richard L. Etchberger Memorial Highway.
6 (a)  Designation.–Interstate 78 in Berks County from mile
7 marker 23 to mile marker 35 is hereby designated as the CMSgt.
8 Richard L. Etchberger Memorial Highway.
9 (b)  Signs.–The Department of Transportation shall erect and
10 maintain appropriate signs displaying the name of the highway
11 designated under subsection (a) to traffic in both directions.
12 Section 2.  Effective date.
13 This act shall take effect immediately.

May 28, 2011

China in Laos: Busted flush – How a Sino-Lao special economic zone hit the skids

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May 26th 2011 | BOTEN, LAOS | from the print edition

Soon all this will be jungle again

AT HOME and abroad, China is a byword for fast-track development, where yesterday’s paddy field is tomorrow’s factory, highway or hotel. Less noticed is that such development can just as quickly go into reverse. Golden City, in Boten, just over the border from China in tiny Laos, is a case in point.

When a Hong Kong-registered company signed a 30-year, renewable lease with the Lao government in 2003 to set up a 1,640-hectare special economic zone built with mainland money and expertise, Golden City was touted as a futuristic hub for trade and tourism. The builders promptly went to work, and a cluster of pastel blocks rose amid the green hills of northern Laos. Thousands of Chinese tourists and entrepreneurs poured into the enclave, drawn largely by the forbidden pleasures and profits of gambling, which is illegal in China, except in Macau. Today the main casino, inside a three-star hotel, lies abandoned, its baize tables thick with dust.

The trouble started in December, when Chinese gamblers found that the operators refused to let them leave until they had coughed up for betting losses. Officials from Hubei province apparently negotiated the release of several “hostages”, but many more continued to be held against their will. Accounts in the Chinese media say that casino recruiters lured gamblers with offers of free travel and hotel rooms, only to be kept captive and beaten when their credit ran out. Lao villagers swap grisly tales of corpses dumped in the river.

Chinese authorities have since put the boot into Boten. In March the foreign ministry warned citizens not to gamble in Laos and accused Golden City of cheating its cross-border customers. It said it had demanded that Laos close down the casino. Last month the casino duly shut, and the smaller gaming halls have since gone too. The 232-room hotel, which is almost empty, will be next.

Most shop and restaurant owners have packed up and left, as have the Thai transvestite show and the legions of prostitutes. Stricter visa rules for Chinese tourists have added to the squeeze. A Lao policeman, who admits to having nothing to do, puts the town’s dwindling population at 2,000, down from 10,000 at its peak. The enclave’s economy seems to have collapsed just as the builders hit their stride with a new high-rise hotel and a shopping centre bristling with columns in the classical style.

Golden City says it has pumped $130m into the project’s first phase, including funds from outside investors. A company official, Ginger He, puts a brave face on things, arguing that the slump is a chance to rebrand the enclave as a wholesome tourist destination and import-export zone. She blames the bad publicity on shady Chinese concessionaires who ran the card games in the casino—as if the company had expected angels. Golden City has since declared force majeure to revoke its contracts. Investors might wish to sue under Lao law. But Miss He points out that China had ordered Laos to close the casino. “Little brother cannot fight with big brother,” she says.

At the best of times, cross-border casinos are risky investments, since China often cracks down on outbound gamblers. Warlords in Myanmar have previously felt the consequences, with gambling dens left to rot in the jungle after borders grew tighter. Business folk in Boten say the action may have moved to casinos elsewhere in Laos and Myanmar. A Macau-based company has recently completed a giant riverside casino in the so-called Golden Triangle, where Laos meets Thailand and Myanmar.

But Golden City was supposed to represent more than just a fast buck. The developers persuaded Laos of the benefits of allowing a Chinese-run enclave. Its residents, they said, would “form a huge community and a modern society”, in the words of their brochure. The zone also took on some of the trappings of the Chinese state, including uniformed security guards, development slogans and even the Chinese currency. This gave the false impression that it enjoyed official backing. Instead, it became an irritant that Beijing had to put in its place.

from the print edition | Asia

May 28, 2011

Fears over growing Chinese industry in Laos

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By Conor Woodman
Boten, Laos

Lao people live surrounded by Chinese stores and Chinese road signs in Boten

Chinese investment in neighbouring Laos has locals worried that the rubber plantations and casinos it is setting up are damaging their way of life.

Place your bets!

The croupier pings the bell to bring to an end the flurry of Chinese banknotes being flung onto the baccarat table.

Chinese shops in Boten, Laos

The Lao government has been leasing land to China for 60 years

Everyone is backing one man in particular who has been on a winning streak.

The croupier deals two cards and then reveals what the man has to beat – the nine of clubs.

All attention turns back to the man, who turns over the other card and then slams it down onto the felt with a flourish.

Jack of hearts.

Everybody cheers – he has won and so they have, too.

This casino is one of several in the town of Boten, where guests are greeted with a deferential “ni hao”, “hello” in Mandarin Chinese.

What is remarkable is that this casino is not in China, where gambling is strictly forbidden, but across the border in neighbouring Laos.

Investors have leased the whole town and its surroundings from the Lao government for 60 years.

Rapid expansion

In Boten, the road signs are all in Chinese, staff in the hotels speak Mandarin, and the town’s main strip is a line of food stalls selling dumplings and fried duck, outside which young Chinese prostitutes parade up and down until all hours of the night.

I meet Robert, a security guard who works in the casino, having a crafty cigarette break outside.

“This used to be just a rubbish Lao village,” Robert tells me.

We should spend money on rice but instead we spend it on phonecards and alcohol
Borsai – Lao villager

“They gave each of the villagers around $800 (£488) and told them to get out of here.

“Since then it’s basically a Chinese town.”

And Chinese investments in Northern Laos go a lot further than Boten’s casinos.

Several Chinese rubber companies have begun to build offices in nearby Luang Namtha.

Just over the border, China’s Yunnan province is a booming centre of the global rubber processing industry, producing rubber for everything from car tyres to condoms.

But with no room left to plant more trees there, Chinese companies are having to look further afield.

The Lao government believes it has spotted an opportunity.

Gambling that Chinese rubber money could open a fast track to development in the region, it has offered generous incentives in the form of tax breaks and land concessions.

Ban Chagnee is a Lao village in one of those concessions.

Lao villagers who work on a rubber plantation

Lao villagers are concerned by the influx of Chinese companies

I arrive in the village in the middle of a particularly torrential downpour, and a thin young man with a long, drawn face called Borsai invites me in to shelter from the rain.

While his chickens cluck loudly in the backyard, Borsai squats on the floor and pours us both a glass of whisky.

“Four years ago,” he says, sliding the glass towards me, “the military came and told us the government had sold our land. Anyone who tried to grow rice there again would be arrested.”

The army offered poor compensation.

“They paid me 15 pence for every day’s work I had done,” he says.

“Nothing for the rice, let alone for the land.”

The Lao government argues that the strategy of trading villagers’ land in exchange for jobs is necessary to benefit the country as a whole.

But Borsai says only the politicians and the generals profit through backhanders and corruption.

“We prefer the old way of life,” says Borsai.

“Yes, we can make money if we work for the Chinese, but our expenses are higher.

“We should spend money on rice but instead we spend it on phonecards and alcohol.”

Heaven help him when the casinos and prostitutes arrive.

‘Worrying’ trend

It is not only Chinese companies that can grow rubber in Laos.

Map of Laos

Fifty miles (80.4km) down the road, Han Yuang boldly tells me that he was in fact the first man in Laos to plant rubber 14 years ago.

Han is now in his 60s. He learned the skills needed to grow rubber during the time he was exiled in China after the Vietnam war.

Now back in Laos, he and his sons farm 50 acres of rubber that will produce a very good income this year.

He shared his knowledge freely so that now every family in the village is benefiting from rubber.

“We’re not rich here,” says Han as he smiles with his two remaining teeth.

“Let’s just say we have enough.”

But Han is not happy with everything that he sees.

“I worry about all the Chinese companies coming into Laos,” he says.

“How will they find enough people to work all those trees?”

A rubber plantation requires three or four people per acre to maintain it once in full production.

Add up all the land ceded to Chinese companies already, and that means over a million people are going to be needed.

“Are they planning to bring a million Chinese here to Laos?” asks Han.

“What will that do to our culture?”

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