Today’s food and financial crises have triggered a new global land grab. Fueled by the promise of fortunes to be made by buying cheap land, private corporations are snatching up vast areas of farmland abroad. There are more than 2,000 land concession projects in Laos, a country rich in natural resources. Neighbouring countries China, Vietnam and Thailand are eager to raid Laos’ natural resources, and Laos welcome these offers of investments, in exchange for foreign technologies, capital and infrastructure development.
At the Lao-Chinese border town of Boten, Laos signed a 30-year lease on 1640 hectare of land to a Chinese company. Under the special economic zone scheme, Chinese investors started building the Golden City, a Chinese-run enclave touted as a futuristic hub for trade and tourism. At the heart of this development is a hotel-casino, which attracted Chinese and regional tourists. The Golden City ran on Peking time and made transactions in Chinese Yuan. Mandarin is the common language here. Less than 3 years into its operation, the casino was forced to close down due to speculation over criminal activity. Without the gambling activity, other businesses could not survive. The Golden City, deserted as it is today, remains a momument to the Chinese version of urban modernity matched by no other place in Laos.