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Abstract

This paper examines the governance and implementation of land compensation for the Laos-China Railway (LCR). It brings to light the central government’s strategy to use compensation rules and procedures as its means to extend its spatial power across the provinces, districts, and villages that are affected by the railway construction. We examine both the manifestations and effects of state power through the formulation and implementation of land compensation procedures. Taking Naxang village in Chomphet district, Luang Prabang province, in Laos as a case, the paper highlights: 1) how centralized compensation rules and procedures serve as a means for the central government to expand its power; 2) how power relations between central-provincial-district governments (re)shaped the actual project implementation especially pertaining to compensation valuation and payment; and 3) implications for smallholder livelihood options and strategies.

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... These and many other contributions have been highly influential in calling attention to the politics embedded in and enacted through infrastructure (see for example Pinch, 1992;Winner, 1980) and the various ways in which territorial relations are reconfigured through infrastructure. Beyond changes in the biophysical environment, some studies have focused on how state-society relations change as an effect of infrastructure construction and how infrastructures always (re) distribute societal benefits and burdens (see for example Akhter, 2015;Meehan, 2014;Menga, 2015;Suhardiman et al., 2021). Others have demonstrated how societal norms and modes of organizing are reshaped by infrastructure, acting on people's everyday lives and (self)consciousness in often invisible yet powerful ways (Shlomo, 2017). ...
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Infrastructures and their roles and connections to and in territories and territorialization processes have increasingly become objects of study in political geography scholarship. In this contribution, we build on these emerging insights and advance them by further conceptually disentangling the agential role of infrastructure. We bring together the notions of territory, governmentality, imaginaries and subjectivities, to clarify how exactly hydraulic infrastructure acts to transform relations between space, people and materiality. We start by introducing territorialization as a process of ‘ordering things’ in a certain space and time through different techniques of government. When then show how, at the base of such territorialization processes, are imaginaries that contain normative ideas about how space and socio-territorial relations should be ordered. Imaginaries are consequently materialized through hydraulic infrastructure through the inscription of morals, values and norms in infrastructure design, construction and operation. This set of materialities and relations embedded in infrastructure brings changes to the existing relations between space, water and people. In particular, we highlight the repercussions of infrastructure for how people understand and relate to each other, the environment, water, technology and space: in other words, how subjectivities change as an effect of hydraulic infrastructure constitution. Last, we show how infrastructure and the related hydrosocial territories that develop around it are a dynamic arena of contestation and transformation. We argue that socio-material fractures, emerging counter-imaginaries and the disruptive capacities of subjectivities constantly challenge the ‘fixes’ that infrastructures aim to inscribe in hydrosocial territories. Throughout the paper, we use empirical examples from recent research on hydraulic infrastructure and territorial transformations to ground the conceptual ideas.
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Chapter
The rising presence of China in Laos is a very visible and potent force of change throughout the country. Until recently, this was consolidated largely in areas along the Lao-China border but is now visible throughout the country and particularly in Lao cities. This is particularly so since China embarked on the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), which has brought China closer to Laos, metaphorically and literally. This chapter argues that the rising presence of China in Laos has also entrenched a sense of Lao-ness. Laos is one of the most ethnically diverse countries in the world, which has existed in its current form only since 1975 and has a weak sense of national consciousness. This chapter contends that the issue of China in Laos is a significant and rare driver of national unity across the Lao population. This is something on which many Lao people have opinions and/or concerns and produces a sense of we-ness or togetherness as citizens of Laos amongst an otherwise disparate population.
Thesis
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This dissertation provides an ethnography of global China centered on one infrastructural corridor in Northern Laos. Through an analysis of three interrelated infrastructure projects that have become emblematic of China’s Belt and Road Initiative—the Laos–China Railway, Laos– China Economic Corridor, and Boten Special Economic Zone—I offer a grounded view on a story that is often told from faraway, geopolitical perspectives. I propose the concept of the infrastructure frontier as a more nuanced way to think about China’s global expansion. A discursive and material phenomena, the infrastructure frontier is a capitalist project that remakes space and time to create conditions to accumulate capital. The infrastructure frontier is made through the discursive repetition of the need to unblock Laos; undervaluation of land; spectacle and performance to attract capital; more-than-economic logics of Chinese capital; and both Lao and Chinese state-support. Infrastructure frontier-making simultaneously encloses space to open it to certain types of “development,” capital, or exploitation. I show how the corridor and Boten were reinvented as zones of opportunity through performance, spectacle, and speculation. In addition, I show how the Lao state assembles land for railway construction and in anticipation for future value appropriation through techniques that create a lack of calculability and undervalue land. Furthermore, the dissertation demonstrates that rather than predatory, debt provides an outlet for overaccumulation by delaying devaluation of domestic Chinese capital. This is possible due to the involvement of Chinese SOEs and joint ventures that can take on long-term risk or transfer it to lower-level actors. Finally, this dissertation details local experiences of land loss and compensation. Rather than foregrounding dispossession, it explores how displacement and infrastructural temporalities work together to illuminate how people navigate suspension despite long periods of waiting, uncertainty around land, knowledge that past projects did not materialize, and feelings that participation and redress are not possible. In sum, this dissertation illustrates how the frontier is made and remade by capital and the state through infrastructure.
Technical Report
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https://thepeoplesmap.net/project/laos-china-railway/
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China's vast construction of infrastructure around the world involves not only promises of trans-national cooperation, connectivity, and national development, but also local dispossession. Construction requires large tracts of land, often leading to the displacement of local people. In Laos, investments since the early-2000s have entailed land loss and questionable safeguard practices. Despite pressure on Chinese policy banks and through the BRI to strengthen regulations for infrastructure construction, the influx of BRI megaprojects in Laos has exacerbated ongoing social and environmental issues. Using Laos-China Railway land compensation as a case, this working paper presents a grounded and multi-scalar analysis of Chinese development finance and environmental and social safeguards. Through policy analysis, ethnographic, and qualitative methods, I examine regulatory frameworks related to displacement and land compensation for the railway-first, in the context of broader changes across Chinese development finance, second, in terms of how villagers experience implementation on the ground, and finally, how domestic regulations evolved through the project's development cycle. As existing projects are subsumed within the BRI this paper asks: Have safeguards improved as BRI development finance was introduced? Which host regulations were in place when project agreements were signed and how have they been updated throughout the project's development? Focusing on one project underscores the need to dissect how policy bank safeguards compare and interact with domestic policies and local implementation. This case points to the challenges of continued reliance on host country standards in contrast to pressures to improve safeguards domestically and with international development finance. I highlight how these challenges are exacerbated by high-profile projects and argue that more fine-grained, project-based analysis of how safeguards are used begins to answer questions of whether pressures to improve Chinese development finance translate to the ground.
Research
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China's vast construction of infrastructure around the world involves not only promises of trans-national cooperation, connectivity, and national development, but also local dispossession. Construction requires large tracts of land, often leading to the displacement of local people. In Laos, investments since the early-2000s have entailed land loss and questionable safeguard practices. Despite pressure on Chinese policy banks and through the BRI to strengthen regulations for infrastructure construction, the influx of BRI megaprojects in Laos has exacerbated ongoing social and environmental issues. Using Laos-China Railway land compensation as a case, this working paper presents a grounded and multi-scalar analysis of Chinese development finance and environmental and social safeguards. Through policy analysis, ethnographic, and qualitative methods, I examine regulatory frameworks related to displacement and land compensation for the railway-first, in the context of broader changes across Chinese development finance, second, in terms of how villagers experience implementation on the ground, and finally, how domestic regulations evolved through the project's development cycle. As existing projects are subsumed within the BRI this paper asks: Have safeguards improved as BRI development finance was introduced? Which host regulations were in place when project agreements were signed and how have they been updated throughout the project's development? Focusing on one project underscores the need to dissect how policy bank safeguards compare and interact with domestic policies and local implementation. This case points to the challenges of continued reliance on host country standards in contrast to pressures to improve safeguards domestically and with international development finance. I highlight how these challenges are exacerbated by high-profile projects and argue that more fine-grained, project-based analysis of how safeguards are used begins to answer questions of whether pressures to improve Chinese development finance translate to the ground.
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China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) is a call for an open and inclusive (mutually beneficial) model of cooperative economic, political and cultural exchange (globalization) that draws on the deep-seated meanings of the ancient Silk Roads. While it reflects China’s rise as a global power, and its industrial redeployment, increased outward investment and need to diversify energy sources and routes, the BRI involves the establishment of a framework for open cooperation and new multilateral financial instruments designed to lay the infrastructural and industrial foundations to secure and solidify China’s relations with countries along the Silk Roads and to extend the march of modernization and poverty reduction to emerging countries.
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We examine the patterns and characteristics of private investment in Laos, and how these evolve in relation to the Lao government's investment incentive policies in particular, and the wider State policies in general. Our goals are to: 1) systematically describe and analyse the patterns and characteristics of private investment in the country; and 2) analyse investment outcomes in terms of economic growth, poverty reduction and livelihoods. We argue that while private investments in the resource sector have contributed to the economic growth, they have also negatively impacted local resources and communities. From a policy perspective, we highlight the need to examine the actual significance of policy incentives provided by the Lao government, especially with regard to its ability to direct investment decisions, geographically and sectorally.
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“Voluntary” land transfer agreements, negotiated directly between “willing buyers and willing sellers”, present a seemingly empowering alternative to the use of legal instruments for land acquisition or transfer which entail forced displacement. Yet asymmetrical bargaining power between the negotiating parties can undermine the fairness of negotiated outcomes and the right of the sellers to a “no-displacement” option. Viewed against a complex background of bourgeoning land transfers in multiple sites, this article examines rights-based and risks-based approaches to negotiated settlements, concluding that measures to address asymmetries in bargaining power must look beyond enhanced negotiation procedures to address underlying social and political dimensions.
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Infrastructures are material forms that allow for the possibility of exchange over space. They are the physical networks through which goods, ideas, waste, power, people, and finance are trafficked. In this article I trace the range of anthropological literature that seeks to theorize infrastructure by drawing on biopolitics, science and technology studies, and theories of technopolitics. I also examine other dimensions of infrastructures that release different meanings and structure politics in various ways: through the aesthetic and the sensorial, desire and promise.
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This article examines the role of water infrastructure in the production of state power, and advances an understanding of nonhumans as power brokers. While state power is increasingly understood as the effect of material practices and processes, I draw on the idea that objects are ‘force-full’ to argue that infrastructure helped cement federal state power in Tijuana over the twentieth century, and simultaneously limited the spaces of stateness in surprising ways. To support my argument, I examine three sets of water infrastructure in Tijuana, Mexico. First, I examine the key constitutional edicts, laws, and treaties that enabled bureaucratic development and staked territorial claims on water during Mexico’s liberal era (1876–1911) and post-revolutionary period. Second, I trace the development of Tijuana’s flood control and potable water conveyance networks, designed and built between the 1960s and the 1980s, which enabled rapid urban growth but ultimately cultivated dependency on a distant, state engineered water source. Finally, I show how the ordinary infrastructures of water supply—such as barrels, cisterns, and buckets, common tools in Tijuana homes—both coexist with and limit state power, resulting in variegated geographies of institutional authority, punctuated by alternative spaces of rule. Together, these infrastructures form the ‘hydrosocial cycle’ of Tijuana, which I use to illustrate the uneven spatiality of state power. In conclusion, I draw on insights from object-oriented philosophy and science and technology studies to move past the anthropocentric notion of infrastructure as ‘power tools’—handy implements used by humans to exercise dominion—toward tool-power: the idea that objects-in-themselves are wellsprings of power.
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Kyaw Yin Hlaing is Assistant Professor in the Department of Political Science at the National University of Singapore. The author wishes to thank Woon Yong Hong, Bacharee Puengpak, and N. Ganesan for their research and editorial assistance. 1. Because most of my interviewees were still living or working in Laos, they do not wish to be quoted by name. I therefore will not give citations to all the interviews I have quoted in the article. Of the 36 people I interviewed, 9 are present or former government officials, 11 are present or former NGO workers, 4 are students, and 12 are business people. 2. Constitution of Lao PDR, Law on Government of Lao PDR, Law on Local Administration of Lao PDR (Vientiane: Public Administration and Civil Service Authority, 2005), p. 4. 3. Maha Khampeuy Vannasopha, Religious Affairs in Lao PDR (Vientiane: Department of Religious Affairs, 2005), pp. 18-25. 4. Ibid., pp. 28-37. 5. Ibid., pp. 38-43. 6. Merilee Grindle, Challenging the State (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1996). 7. Governance Reform and Livelihood Strengthening Programme, "Local Governance Self-assessment Report: Khammouane Province", 2005, pp. 26-31. 8. International Development Association, "Country Assistance Strategy for the Lao People's Democratic Republic", 10 March 2005, p. 8. 9. AusAid, Laos Australia Development Cooperation Program (2004-10) (Canberra: AusAid, 2005); Hayashida Kazuno, "Teaching Law and Political Science at the National University of Laos", Nagoya University Center for Asian Legal Exchange Newsletter (No. 3, 2001). 10. International Development Association, "Country Assistance Strategy for the Lao People's Democratic Republic", pp. 8-9. 11. Lao PDR, "Background Paper on Governance" (Vientiane, March 2003); Governance Reform and Livelihood Strengthening Programme, "Local Governance Self-assessment Report: Khammouane Province", 2005. 12. International Development Association, "Country Assistance Strategy for the Lao People's Democratic Republic", 10 March 2005; Governance Reform and Livelihood Strengthening Programme, "Local Governance Self-assessment Report: Khammouane Province", 2005. 13. Governance Reform and Livelihood Strengthening Programme, "Local Governance Self-assessment Report: Khammouane Province", pp. 37-38. 14. Patrick Keuleers, Corruption in Lao PDR (Bangkok: UNDP, March 2004), p. 14. 15. Lao PDR, "Background Paper on Governance" (Vientiane, March 2003), p. 8. 16. International Development Association, "Country Assistance Strategy for the Lao People's Democratic Republic", p. 8. 17. Governance Reform and Livelihood Strengthening Programme, "Local Governance Self-assessment Report: Khammouane Province", pp. 17-35. 18. Ibid. 19. Ibid., p. 27. 20. Keuleers, op. cit. 21. Governance Reform and Livelihood Strengthening Programme, "Local Governance Self-assessment Report: Khammouane Province", pp. 17-35. 22. Keuleers, op. cit., p. 17. 23. The EU's Relations with Lao People's Democratic Republic, http://europa.eu.int/comm/external_relations/lao/intro/index.htm; "Lao PDR Donors' Matrix", 2005, table 1. 24. The Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, "Country Reports on Human Rights Practices — 2005", 8 March 2006. 25. "Hmong Refugees: Laos Blames Thailand for 'Inhumane Act'", Nation, 2 February 2006. 26. World Bank, "Lao PDR Economic Monitor", October 2005, pp. 1-2.
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In this paper I want to consider whether actor-network theory [ANT] gives rise to a new kind of geography, or, perhaps more specifically, a new kind of geographical analysis. The paper therefore seeks to identify the main types of spaces implicated in the typical network configurations found in actor-network studies. Following a review of the ANT literature I conclude that two main spatial types can be discerned, linked to the degrees of remote control and autonomy found in networks. I characterise these two types as ‘spaces of prescription’ and ‘spaces of negotiation’. I go on to elaborate what a geography of prescription and negotiation might imply both for spatial analysis and actor-network theory. This paper is therefore one attempt to think through some of the implications that ANT holds for the study of space.
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: Multi-scalar or multi-site power relations offer two contrasting ways of understanding the shifting geography of state power. In this paper, we argue for a different starting point, one that favours a topological understanding of state spatiality over more conventional topographical accounts. In contrast to a vertical or horizontal imagery of the geography of state power, what states possess, we suggest, is reach, not height. In doing so, we draw from Sassen (2006, Territory, Authority, Rights: From Medieval to Global Assemblages, Princeton University Press) a vocabulary capable of portraying the renegotiation of powers that has taken place between central government in the UK and one of its key city regions, the South East of England; one that highlights an assemblage of political actors, some public, some private, where negotiations take place between elements of central and local actors “lodged” within the region, not acting “above”, “below” or “alongside” it. The articulation of political demands in such a context has less to do with “jumping scale” or formalizing extensive network connections and more to do with the ability to reach directly into a “centralized” politics where proximity and reach play across one another in particular ways.
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In a manner analogous to Lukes' classic study of power in the early 1970s, this paper sets out three spatial vocabularies of power - territorial, networked and topological. Each spatial frame, it is suggested, has its usefulness in helping us to understand the ways in which power works itself out spatially. But, as in Lukes' study, the first two accounts of power are found wanting in certain respects; in this instance because of the limitations of the topographical framework which underpins them. In order to come to terms with the changing dynamics of a more complex, globalized world, it is argued that a topological appreciation of the workings of power is a better starting point. At a minimum, the paper sets out to show how the ability of powerful bodies to draw distant others within close reach or construct the close at hand at a distance, through relations of connection and simultaneity, opens up an understanding of power more in tune with the spatial reworkings of authority and influence today.