VIENTIANE, Laos — Two decades ago, this sleepy city on the Mekong River was just starting to pave its streets.
Today, Vientiane, the Laotian capital, is abuzz with change. Cars choke the paved city streets, and the downtown area is brimming with cafes, restaurants and bars catering to the small but growing middle class.
In recent years, Chinese investment in resource-rich Laos has strengthened the country’s economy, which is projected to grow by 7 percent this year. Vientiane’s hot property market reflects this trend. Hoping that China’s Belt and Road Initiative will improve connectivity with its neighbor, Laos is preparing for a new wave of Chinese investment in its property sector.
Crucial to these hopes is a 260-mile, $5 billion rail line that Beijing seeks to extend through Laos to Thailand, a much larger market.
The completion of the rail line will bring a major change to the city, connecting landlocked Laos to China’s extensive rail network, which will bring tourism and property investment, said Tony Saiyalath, managing director at RentsBuy, a property company based in Vientiane.
万象房地产公司RentsBuy总经理托尼·赛亚拉特(Tony Saiyalath)表示,这条铁路线的建成将给这座城市带来重大变化,将深处内陆的老挝与中国庞大的铁路网连接起来,这将带来旅游和房地产投资。
“That will bring the property market alive,” he said. “Even right now, people are starting to buy — they already know the locations of where the stations are.”
The increase in Chinese investment is due in part to a new policy of “transforming assets into capital,” which Laos’s communist government introduced five years ago. Under the policy, state-owned property can be privatized to attract foreign investment. The plan was especially appealing to Chinese investors, who acquired most of the high-end property in Vientiane. Prices went up sharply in 2014, but have stabilized, while rents have dropped by 20 to 30 percent since 2016, partly because Chinese mining companies have reduced their Laos operations after concessions expired.
中国工人在老挝万荣附近一条隧道的入口,这条隧道是中国到老挝的铁路项目的一部分。 Adam Dean for The New York Times
Chinese businessmen are the dominant property investors in Vientiane, along with a mix of Laotian, Vietnamese and Thai investors, Mr. Saiyalath said. Chinese companies are also players in the largest property developments in the city. This is apparent on the east end of downtown Vientiane’s riverside, where the Laotian and French colonial architecture yields to a mile-long stretch of prime real estate developed by the Camce Investment (Lao) Company, a joint venture between China CAMC Engineering and the Laotian construction company Krittaphong Group. With its investment, Camce is aiming to draw wealthy locals and foreigners.
赛亚拉特说,中国商人是万象主要的房地产投资者,另外也有许多老挝、越南和泰国投资者。中国企业还参与了一些万象最大的房地产开发项目,这在万象市中心的河滨东端很明显。在这里,老挝和法国殖民时期的建筑让位给了中工国际投资(老挝)有限公司(Camce)的一处一英里长的高端房地产。Camce是中国的中工国际工程公司和老挝建筑公司吉达蓬集团(Krittaphong Group)的合资企业。得到这笔投资后,Camce希望能吸引富有的当地人和外国人。
The Landmark compound on the east end of the Camce development combines high-end residential, hotel, restaurant and event spaces to create an exclusive, gated community. Landmark Diplomatic Residence offers luxury apartments for rent only, from $1,000 to $2,200 a month, said Neo Liang, a Chinese manager at Camce’s marketing office. Next door, offering unobstructed views of the Mekong River and Thailand on the other side, is the five-star Landmark Mekong Riverside Hotel, where President Barack Obama stayed in the presidential suite during his visit to Laos in 2016.
位于Camce开发项目东端的“地标”园区结合了高端住宅、酒店、餐厅和活动空间,以创造一个专属的封闭式社区。Camce市场营销办公室的一位中国经理尼奥·梁(Neo Liang)说,“地标外交公寓”只提供豪华公寓的租赁,月租金从1,000美元到2,200美元不等。隔壁是五星级的湄公河畔地标酒店(Landmark Mekong Riverside Hotel),在那里可以一览无余地观赏湄公河和对岸泰国的美景。2016年,美国总统巴拉克·奥巴马(Barack Obama)在老挝访问期间,曾入住该酒店的总统套房。
Farther upstream, ASEM Villa features 50 fully furnished and decorated “mansion villas” for rent, starting at $4,500 a month. Mr. Liang said the gated community was more than 90 percent occupied, with a variety of tenants.
再往上游走是亚欧峰会元首官邸别墅(ASEM Villa)——50套家具齐全、装修豪华的“豪宅别墅”供出租,起价每月4500美元。梁先生说,这个封闭的社区入住率超过90%,有各种各样的租户。
“They’re from all over — Koreans, Japanese, Chinese, Singaporeans,” he said.
A visit to ASEM Villa showed a strong presence by Chinese state-owned companies, including China Railway Group, which is building the rail line to Vientiane, and PowerChina, which has numerous projects of its own and via subsidiaries throughout Laos. Other offices with Chinese tenants included a Belt and Road information center and a Chinese culture center. The Singaporean ambassador’s residence and the European Union’s office for Laos are also there.
The area includes another five-star hotel, the Don Chan Palace. At 14 floors, it is the country’s tallest. Like the Landmark compound, Don Chan Palace has a large banquet hall and convention center. On a recent visit, the lobbies of both hotels were populated primarily by Chinese businessmen.
该地区还有另一家五星级酒店——月亮岛皇宫酒店(Don Chan Palace)。它有14层,是全国最高。与“地标”一样,月亮岛皇宫酒店也有一个大型宴会厅和会议中心。在最近的一次访问中记者看到,这两家酒店的大堂里来往的主要是中国商人。
Vientiane New World, an outdoor mall on the development’s west end, is Camce’s most public-facing development. It features a small office building for the Chinese telecommunications giant Huawei — whose advertisements flutter on lampposts downtown — and a “walking street” with restaurants, cafes, shops and a beer garden.
万象新世界(Vientiane New World)是开发项目西端的一个户外购物中心,是Camce面向公众最多的开发项目。那里有一座中国电信巨头华为的小型办公楼——它的广告在市中心的灯柱上飘扬——还有一条“步行街”,里面有餐馆、咖啡馆、商店和一个啤酒花园。
Chinese businesses are featured prominently at Vientiane New World, with regional Chinese restaurants offering cuisine from Liaoning and Shandong Provinces, as well as Old Chengdu, a high-end Sichuanese restaurant where several dishes cost upward of $100 — a month’s rent for the average Vientiane resident.
Chinese expatriates and tourists are not the only diners to be found at these restaurants. For middle-class and wealthier Laotians, dining at a Chinese restaurant is a sign of sophistication and worldliness.
On weekend nights, Vientiane New World’s beer garden is filled with young Laotians eating and drinking at dozens of tiny open-air bars and restaurants, typically constructed with corrugated metal. Offering a relatively upscale alternative to the night markets farther down the riverside, each establishment’s music competes with that of the neighbors.
Camce’s riverside investment is but one Chinese project transforming the city. Shanghai Wanfeng has invested $300 million of a projected $5 billion total in That Luang Lake, which has just begun its second of four phases that are scheduled for completion in 2032. Of the 11 buildings already built, four condominiums are selling units, Mr. Saiyalath said. Two more buildings — a hotel and serviced apartments — are preparing to open.
Camce的沿河投资只是其中一个正在改变城市的中国项目。上海万丰在塔琅湖(That Luang Lake)已经投资3亿美元,预计投资总额将达到50亿美元。塔琅湖的改造刚开始第二阶段;总共有四个阶段,预计于2032年完成。赛亚拉特说,在已经建成的11栋建筑中,有四套共公寓楼正在出售。另外两座大楼——一家酒店和酒店式公寓——正准备开业。
The project is in an economic zone, where foreign investors can buy condominiums. Mr. Saiyalath said he hoped the government would adopt a new law to allow foreigners to own condominiums outside economic zones. In Cambodia, which has such a law, foreign money, especially Chinese, has flooded the property market.
“Once this law is in place, foreigners will be more confident to invest here,” he said. “Look at Cambodia. Our country needs to be developed quickly.”
China is prioritizing Laos in its Belt and Road investment push. Last November, President Xi Jinping of China and Bounnhang Vorachith, his counterpart in Laos, oversaw the signing of a memorandum of understanding to deepen cooperation through a new Laos-China economic corridor.
中国将老挝列为其“一带一路”投资的重点。去年11月,两国在中国主席习近平和老挝主席本扬·沃拉吉(Bounnhang Vorachith)的督促下签署了共同推进老挝—中国经济走廊建设的谅解备忘录。
“China sees Laos as providing a pathway for rail and road connectivity into Thailand and the rest of Southeast Asia,” said Brian Eyler, director of the Southeast Asia program at the Stimson Center, a nonpartisan policy research center in Washington. Thailand’s military leaders have dragged their feet on the rail line between Bangkok and Vientiane that they originally said would be completed in March. Thailand’s Transport Ministry now projects the line will be completed by 2023, at the earliest.
“中国认为老挝能提供一条路,使通向泰国和东南亚其他地区的铁路和公路得以连通,”华盛顿无党派政策研究机构斯蒂姆森中心(Stimson Center)东南亚项目主管布莱恩·艾勒(Brian Eyler)说。泰国军方领导人在曼谷和万象之间的铁路项目上拖拖拉拉。他们最初说这条铁路将于3月完工。泰国交通部目前预计项目最早将于2023年完工。
“The fate of the rail connection from Vientiane to Bangkok is uncertain,” Mr. Eyler said, “which means China’s big Belt and Rail push into Southeast Asia could end inside of landlocked Laos.”