LUANG PRABANG, Laos -- An ambitious $6 billion high-speed railway project in Laos that would link China with the Laotian capital of Vientiane on the Thai border is meant to be a symbol of cooperation under Chinese President Xi Jinping's flagship Belt and Road Initiative. But with Beijing calling the shots and leaving out locals, it has instead become another example of the pitfalls faced by small Southeast Asian countries in relying economically on their much larger neighbor.
Situated about a 20-minute drive from this ancient former capital of Laos is a construction site that could be described as a little China. Workers' conversation is all in Chinese, as is an instruction manual for heavy machinery resting on a drum. No one at the site, not even the foreman, can speak the local language.