Great expectations: Chinese investment in Laos and the myth of empty land

TitleGreat expectations: Chinese investment in Laos and the myth of empty land
Annotated RecordNot Annotated
Year of Publication2019
AuthorsLu J, Schönweger O
Secondary TitleTerritory, Politics, Governance
Key themesAgriculturalModernization, Dispossession-grabbing, FDI, Policy-law

In land grab narratives, foreign investors are portrayed as predatory resource grabbers and host states as weak victims or colluders. But foreign land investments are often forged through fragmented relations of state power which investors struggle to navigate. For example, over the last decade, Chinese companies have been granted contracts to develop vast agribusiness concessions in Laos. These areas, however, rarely come under full Chinese company control. To understand this gap between how much land the Lao government grants and what investors actually obtain, this article investigates seven Chinese agribusiness concessions. In each case, tropes of Laos as having abundant ‘empty’ lands ripe for investment were used by the Lao government to attract investors, and by investors to justify their projects. These tropes reflect the territorial sensibilities of states and investors alike, while erasing existing users and land use systems, and masking the complex politics behind land regulations of which investors are largely ignorant. We thus abandon the concept of weak governance for that of fragmented sovereignty and suggest that, rather than leaving host countries open to land grabs and subject to investor demands as is often assumed, the fragmented state can sometimes strategically impede the influx of global capital.


Copyrighted journal article



Document Type

Journal Article