31 January: Multilevel Governance and Transnational Economic Actors: Chinese investments in Laos and ASEAN economic integration

14.00-16.00 hrs

Lipsius Building
Room 148
Cleveringaplaats 1

Please send an e-mail to iias.crg@gmail.com to register for this event.

Chinese investments in Laos and ASEAN economic integration

During the seminar, a case study will be discussed that explores the establishment of casinos by Chinese investors in Laotian special economic zones (SEZs) on the Upper Mekong frontier. The government of Lao PDR has been promoting special economic zones on its territory since 2002, in order to attract foreign investment and stimulate socio-economic growth. The discussion of this case study will take into account the impact of Chinese investments on the socio-economic development of such border regions. Further, the adoption of Chinese governance models for economic restructuring and development will be discussed. Finally, the seminar aims to contribute to the debate about the influence of China’s economic expansion in mainland ASEAN on governance structures and the prospects for ASEAN economic integration. The seminar will close with a Q&A session and plenary debate.

“Chinese casino capitalism in Northern Laos: Soft extraterritoriality, exception, or ordinary frontier experimentation?”

Dr Antonella Diana, IIAS Research Fellow

Dr Diana’s presentation will draw on fieldwork in two special economic zones – Boten Golden City, along the border with China, and the Golden Triangle Special Economic Zone, along the border with Thailand and Burma.

Relying on Chinese capital, these SEZs have been under construction since 2005. They present two peculiarities. First, they have been built through long-term land concessions to Chinese investors and conceived of as distinct economic spaces of shared sovereignty between the Lao state and the foreign companies. Second, although the original development plans included a wide range of activities, casino business has been the economic priority in both zones.  The presentation will unveil how Chinese casino capitalism is embedded in the uncertain terrain of unstable patron-client relations, lack of rule of law, shifting policy-making, volatile application of investment agreements and, prevailing national interests over the regional cooperation agenda.

Dr Diana suggests that Chinese-established SEZs in Laos are neither a form of “soft extraterritoriality” evocative of colonial exploitation (Nyiri 2009) nor “zones of exception” (Ong 2005) generated by neo-liberal restructuring. Rather, they are expression of experimentation under authoritarianism, an on-going governing pattern in the Upper Mekong borderlands. Through this uncertain experimental process, the Lao state’s power and sovereignty are paradoxically reinforced. 

Antonella Diana is a borderless political anthropologist who has received a PhD from the Australian National University in 2009. She has been working and conducting research between China and Laos since 1999 on a wide range of issues, including border governance, ethnicity, regional integration in the Upper Mekong, state-making processes and the socio-economic effects of Chinese trans-regional investment, migration and trade in mainland Southeast Asia. Between 2011 and 2012, she was an Assistant Professor in the Department of Anthropology, the Chinese University of Hong Kong. Currently, she is working on a book manuscript titled Roses and Rifles: Experimental Governing and Authority on the China-Laos Frontier as an IIAS Research Fellow in Leiden.

Dr Frans-Paul van der Putten, Senior Research Fellow, Netherlands Institute of International Relations Clingendael, The Hague

Dr Van der Putten is a senior research fellow at the Clingendael Security and Conflict Programme and at Clingendael Asia Studies. His research focuses on the consequences of the rise of China for international security issues. Relevant topics in this context are China’s security relations with Europe and the United States, with neighbouring countries in Asia, and with the developing world; the security implications of Chinese investments abroad; China’s involvement in maritime security; and the relevance of China’s domestic security issues for Sino-Western relations.


The International Institute for Asian Studies (IIAS) is a postdoctoral research centre based in Leiden and Amsterdam, the Netherlands. The main objective of IIAS is to encourage the interdisciplinary and comparative study of Asia and to promote national and international cooperation in the field. The institute focuses on the human and social sciences and on their interaction with other sciences.

The IIAS Centre for Regulation and Governance organises the Seminar Series 2012-3 on Subnational and Transnational Actors in a Globalising World together with Clingendael Asia Studies. The four seminars of this series focus on various aspects of the topic and adopt an interdisciplinary approach. The aim is to bring together academics, policymakers, business people, and students of various social science disciplines.

Last Modified: 23-01-2013