Navigation – Plan du site
Articles

Urban Development and New Actors in Lao PDR in the Context of Regionalization: Case Studies of two Border Towns

Elsa Lainé
p. 99-122

Résumés

Phénomène ancien, l’urbanisation au Laos est pourtant encore relativement faible comparée aux moyennes du continent asiatique ; les centres urbains les importants du pays (capitale nationale et villes frontalières de second rang situées sur les berges du Mékong) ont de plus une population largement inférieure à celle des villes de même rang des pays voisins. Ces villes laotiennes, qui ont connu avec la colonisation et l’indépendance des ruptures dans leur processus d’urbanisation, sont engagées depuis les années 1990, à des rythmes et des degrés variables, dans une dynamique d’internationalisation. Liée à l’intégration transnationale promue par la coopération régionale, l’internationalisation se caractérise notamment par l’augmentation du nombre d’acteurs internationaux qui conjuguent, à l’échelle urbaine, leurs stratégies à celles des autorités centrales et locales. Jusqu’alors à l’écart des flux en raison de leur position périphérique et de leur rang dans la hiérarchie urbaine régionale, ces villes se voient dotées dans ce contexte de fonction inédites en support de l’intégration régionale. L’étude de cas développée dans cette contribution porte sur Savannakhet et Huay Xai, villes de second et de troisième rang situées sur deux corridors économiques du programme de la Région du Grand Mékong. Si elles divergent en termes de rang dans la hiérarchie urbaine nationale, elles ont toutes deux connu une modification de leur organisation spatiale avec l’apparition de nouvelles formes internationalisées comme les infrastructures de transport transfrontalières ou les zones économiques et nouvelles centralités urbaines en tête de pont.

Haut de page

Texte intégral

1With an urbanization rate of 34.2% in 2011, proportion of Lao PDR inhabitants living in cities seems to appear comparable to those of other South East Asian countries, such as Myanmar or Vietnam (30.8 and 31.9% respectively [ADB 2013]). However, this rate does not reflect important differences between these countries’ urban situation, regarding for instance historical background and urbanization phases, characteristics of the urban frame, presence of major metropolis or even cities’ governance, including for example planning by national authorities or stakeholders involved in the urban projects. As presented in the first part of this contribution, Lao PDR urban definition is particularly large, making the country urban population more important than it could have been using other criteria.

2The main objective of this contribution is to present urban dynamics in Lao PDR through the analysis of urban transformations in an unprecedented context of transnational integration. After a brief presentation of Lao PDR’s urban characteristics, I will then present the urban framework reconfigurations in the context of regional cooperation and transnational integration affecting Lao PDR. The study will focus on internationalization of different ranks cities, as developed in case studies of the third part. I would argue that internationalization dynamics are no longer limited to first or second ranked cities and can affect as well, to some extent and at different rhythms and levels, smaller cities that used to be marginalized in the national and regional urban systems. I also would suggest that the regional economic cooperation schemes implemented since the beginning of the 1990s, such as the Greater Mekong Subregion (GMS), contribute to create a new stage of urbanization and to enhance smaller border cities’ internationalization.

  • 1 For economic integration and stakeholders’ reconfiguration at the regional scale, see for example G (...)

3Internationalization refers to the process by which a city can be integrated not only into its hinterland and national environments, but also into broader networks and flows of capital, people, goods, or even cultural products. In this perspective and regarding border towns, internationalization refers to transnational integration based on international networks and should not be limited to cross-border interactions. Its manifestations can be analyzed through two aspects: first the integration into international flows (trade and tourism flows due to improved transport infrastructures; capital flows from foreign direct investments and assistance); secondly the presence of international stakeholders in addition to the local and national ones. In this contribution, focus will be made on the spatial consequences of this internationalization dynamics.1 Although internationalization of global cities has been much studied (for example see Sassen [1991]), this process is still on-going and has been less studied regarding smaller South East Asian cities. Nonetheless, Manuelle Franck, Charles Goldblum and Christian Taillard (2012) investigated qualitative transformations, such as internationalization and metropolization, affecting second ranked cities in South East Asia, i.e. small national capitals such as Vientiane or provincial capitals.

  • 2 For example Bounleuam (2011), Peyronnie & Goldblum (2010) or more generally, Clément, Clément-Charp (...)
  • 3 The official name of the city is Kaysone Phomvihane since 2005, as a tribute to the former Prime Mi (...)
  • 4 At a more precise scale, the two roads do not cross in the city center, but in Seno, located about (...)

4As the transformations of Vientiane are already well known,2 I will thus focus on two provincial capitals sharing international borders with Thailand as case studies: Savannakhet or Kaysone Phomvihane,3 in Savannakhet Province, located on the GMS East-West Economic Corridor (EWEC) and classified as second-ranked city at the national scale, and Houay Xay, in Bokeo Province, located on the GMS North South Economic Corridor (NSEC) and third-ranked city. This classification refers to demographic and administrative criteria, as developed in the first part of this contribution. Savannakhet is situated on a strategic location, at the crossroads between the EWEC connecting to the Thai and Vietnamese road networks, and the backbone axis of Lao PDR, i.e. the Mekong River and road 13, linking to Vientiane and to the Southern Corridor traversing Cambodia.4 Furthermore, the city is facing Mukdahan, located on the Mekong River plain in Thailand, and connected, via Kalasin, to Khon Kaen, which has emerged as the main node and center of Thailand’s Northeastern Region. Houay Xay is also located in the Mekong riverbanks, yet in an enclosed valley where hills are limiting urban extension to the east. Located on the North-South Economic Corridor and facing Chiang Khong in Thailand, Houay Xay is less connected to the national territory than Savannakhet and appears in a peripheral position with regards to transportation networks and urbanization axis. The choice of Houay Xay as a case study can be explained by two factors: first, drawing a comparison with Savannakhet, and secondly identify transformations that also occur in smaller cities. Furthermore, the two case studies are located on the Greater Mekong Subregion Economic corridors, and appear to this extend as a relevant scale to observe dynamics linked with regional integration.

Characteristics and history of urbanization in Lao PDR

5In order to gain a better understanding of the current transformations in some cities in Lao PDR, three issues pertaining to the country’s process of urbanization will be briefly discussed, namely, the definition of cities in the context of Laos, the main stages of urbanization, and the characteristics of the urban system at the national scale.

Institutional framework: a lack of precision in cities’ definition and governance

  • 5 According to the translations, this law is also known under the name “Law on Urban Planning.” The “ (...)
  • 6 “It is the location of a capital city of the country, or of a municipal city, a provincial city, a (...)
  • 7 According to it, the status of municipality can be acknowledged only if all the following criteria (...)
  • 8 According to this method, 17% of Lao PDR’s population was leaving in urban villages by the 1995 Cen (...)

6As Bounleuam Sisoulath (2011: 78) points out, defining a city in Lao PDR is particularly complex. The term “municipality” (ເທດສະບານ) referring to an autonomous body, able to generate revenues, is relatively recent: it first appears as a new territorial entity the 1999 Law on Urban Plans.5 Article 3 of this Law presents three elements that define a city: size of the population, demographic density and level of infrastructural development.6 The 2003 Law on Local Administration complements the latter definition, by mentioning economic and socio-cultural functions and a minimal population of 8,000 inhabitants (Lao PDR 2003: 6).7 These characteristics are replacing the criteria previously formulated by Lao National Center of Statistics (or Lao Statistics Bureau) and by Lao Ministry of Public Works and Transports, which created two different definitions of cities. According to Lao National Center of Statistics, the smallest territorial entity is the village; one can be considered as urban by meeting three out of the five following criteria: presence of district or regional administration, a market, a road for vehicles to get access to the village, water supply and a majority of the households electrified (1995).8 According to these demographic criteria, villages considered as urban in Lao PDR would be classified as rural in other countries.

7While the 1999 and 2003 laws show some efforts to clarify and homogenize criteria that define a city, nonetheless, some urban characteristics remain vague, e.g: the level of equipment and infrastructural development does not appear always easy to measure. Based on these criteria, many small cities present urban situations that can be described as transitional between rural and urban livings, with a low density of built-in areas, persistence of rice fields or traditional housing for example. Even in bigger cities encompassing several urban villages, the urban fabric can still appear heterogeneous, fractioned by these different villages organized around a chief, a temple or a market. Furthermore, the task of estimating urban population in Lao PDR is facing another challenge common to other countries, such as Thailand for instance, i.e. the lack of consistency between the administrative boundaries of a municipality or urban district and the actual urbanized area. This often has led in Lao PDR to an overestimation of urban population, as the district population is often associated with the urban population. As a result, defining urban centers and measuring urbanization scale in Lao PDR have been made more complex by the coexistence of various criteria that produce different and sometimes inconsistent statistics (see Mabbitt 2006).

  • 9 Started in March 2000 with a Prime Minister instruction on development units, decentralization proc (...)
  • 10 For a precise insight of the VUDAA, see for example Goldblum & Peyronnie (2010).
  • 11 Under the Prime Minister Decree (177/PM), four UDAAs have been implemented in Savannakhet, Pakse, T (...)

8This lack of precision in the definition of a city is also relevant when duties and competences of municipalities are considered. Urban governance in Lao PRD is in an era of transformation due to the decentralization process 9 that contributes to slightly modify the institutional framework, for example in planning. As a result of a long-term centralized political vision, the top-down approach remains predominant as the Ministry of Public Works and Transport (in particular, its planning agency) is the main actor for designing urban plans. Nonetheless, Vientiane has gone through some changes since the end of the 1990s with the creation of the Vientiane Urban Development Management Committee (VUDCM) in April 1995, renamed in 1999 Vientiane Urban Development and Administration Authority (VUDAA). The VUDAA, created in partnership with the Asian Development Bank (ADB), is in charge of planning and managing urban services and infrastructures of the capital city, which missions that used to belong to the Ministry of Public Works and Transport.10 This decentralized structure and financially independent has been replicated in several major cities in Lao PDR in 1997, such as Savannakhet and Pakse, under the name of UDAA, with the ABD financial and technical support.11 However, interviews with the provincial UDAAs suggest that the lack of financial resources is a strong limitation to their empowerment. In addition, the articulation between central, provincial, and decentralized authorities remains problematic in a context of increasing urbanization and emergence of new actors in urban areas.

Historical background

9Before underlining the characteristics of a new phase of urbanization characterized by an unprecedented level of internationalization, it is important to briefly present the historical development of cities. I draw here on Terry McGee’s 1967 typology on the history of South East Asian cities. Three periods of urbanization are identified; each type is not necessarily replacing the previous one, rather adding a new layer of urbanization. According to McGee’s classification, the ancient city or “indigenous city” is the first type: it can be located on the coast to benefit from commercial maritime flows or in the inland, as a sacred or political center. The “colonial city” stands as the second type: developed by the colonial powers, the main objectives of its existence can be administrative or military in order to secure the newly created borders. Finally, the “city after independence” marks a break with the precedent phases in terms of functions and size (McGee 1967).

  • 12 As C. Labarthe argues, the village of Song Khone has first been selected to settle the administrati (...)

10Studying cities in Lao PDR shows that several elements of these different phases can be identified in the contemporary urban landscape. Many studies have for example presented the historical past of Vientiane once the capital of Lane Xang Kingdom between the 14th and 18th centuries (see for example Askew, Logan & Colin Long [2007]). The cities of Thakhek, Savannakhet and Pakse, on the riverbanks of the Mekong River, were created at the end of the 19th century as administrative centers to consolidate French power on the colonial territory: Savannakhet in the last years of the 19th century, Pakse in 1908.12 The orthogonal frame of the road network in the city centers or the preservation of colonial buildings such as schools, churches, hospitals or the “Eiffel bridge” on the Sedone River in Pakse, constitute legacies of this period. The implantation of urban infrastructures and services as well as the influx of Vietnamese, often as colonial administration employees, and Chinese migrants contributed to the development of these cities in the first half of the 20th century. As a result of these migration flows, the author points out that in 1943, 85% of Pakse inhabitants and 80.5% in Savannakhet were Chinese or Vietnamese (Labarthe 1969: 41).

  • 13 If the adjective “Laotian” refers in this contribution to nationality from Lao PDR, the adjective “ (...)

11The post-independence period from 1954 represents a turning point in the country's history of urbanization. From then and until the mid-1970s, Mekong riverbanks cities experienced a rapid population growth, characterized by the fact that the urban centers are at this stage and for the first time mainly populated by Lao inhabitants.13 However, this trend of urban growth can not be generalized, as Vanina Bouté points out that in the 1950s, most of the provincial capitals in North Lao can be considered as big villages, with a population ranging around 2,000 to 3,000 inhabitants (Bouté 2012: 125). Another feature concerning Mekong riverbanks cities is the fact that in the context of the civil war opposing the Royal Lao Government and the Pathet Lao (1953-1975), they have been receiving US assistance flows and military troops, importing consumption models from the West, as Andrew Walker (1999) points out. The author shows this with regard to North Laos: Royal Lao Government was controlling Houay Xay between 1962 and 1975 whereas Pathet Lao had power over the valleys. During this period, the small city of Houay Xai was deeply transformed and modernized with the influx of US assistance and proximity with Thailand; an USAID office has been opened in the city, industrial establishments such as sawmills were promoted, and infrastructures were improved (roads network and airport), for instance (Walker 1999: 56).

  • 14 According to Pierre-Bernard Lafont statistics (1991: 117), population in Pakse dropped from 35,000 (...)

12The foundation of the Lao People’s Democratic Republic in 1975 initiated a new phase in the history of urbanization, characterized by State control in urban planning and management. Regarding secondary cities located on the Mekong riverbanks, the population dropped after 1975 with the outflows of urban dwellers (however, Savannakhet stands as an exception due to its strategic location on the east-west road linking Thailand to Viet Nam14), while exchanges with Thailand have been slowing down, without being completely interrupted. This stagnation of cities’ physical and demographic growth is however proper to secondary cities: Bouté points out that small provincial capitals in the Northern Region have faced a demographic growth in the beginning of the 1980s due to inflows of civil servants coming form rural areas (2012: 129).

13Finally, the New Economic Mecanism and economic reforms implemented in the late 1980s created the conditions for a new phase of urbanization, characterized by the progressive diversification of actors, including from then on the international community through foreign direct assistance and private investors. This phase has been amplified with the transnational dynamics linked with regionalization that is discussed in the following section.

Urban fabric: hierarchy of cities with an urbanization axis along the Mekong River

  • 15 This organization is deeply contrasting from the neighboring countries and especially Thailand: eve (...)
  • 16 Regions do not appear as a formal administrative level in Lao PDR’s administration, in contrast to (...)

14Lao PDR is presenting a polycentric urban structure dominated by several urban centers. The Mekong River that forms the international border with Thailand is the country's main axis of organization.15 As a result, most of the urban centers in Lao PDR are located in the Mekong River plain, while the mountainous east side of the country is much less urbanized (Fig. 1). Bounthavy Sisouphanthong and Christian Taillard (2000: 157) point out that each region is commanded by a regional capital city that concentrates population and urban functions, regardless of its size. Even if this regional scale of analysis can be discussed,16 Luang Prabang appears as the main city of the Northern region, Vientiane for the central provinces, and Savannakhet and Pakse for the Southern region, divided in two subsystems.

  • 17 Article 3 of 1999 Law on Urban Plans classified cities according to three levels: cities under the (...)
  • 18 The previous Socio-Economic Development Plan of Lao PDR (1996-2000) has been putting emphasis on pr (...)
  • 19 Initiated in 2009 and still in progress, this project lies on two pillars: an institutional support (...)

15The administrative framework acts this opposition between the Mekong plain and the rest of the country. Three levels of cities are indeed distinguished:17 Vientiane as a capital city, Luang Prabang, Savannakhet, Thakhek and Pakse as “secondary cities” and the other ones as “small cities” (Fig. 1). This terminology is directly linked with the foreign direct assistance programs: at the end of the 1990s, the Lao government requested ADB’s technical and financial assistance in developing urban infrastructures (roads, drainage channels, ancillary facilities) and services as well as the management of these services in the four largest towns of the country following Vientiane,18 all located in the Mekong riverbanks, namely Luang Prabang, Thakhek, Savannakhet and Pakse. An ADB loan of 27 million USD was approved in June 1997 (ADB 1997: 2) under the “secondary towns” program. A decade later, another program was conducted to improve urban infrastructure in 21 third-rank cities, provinces’ capitals or small urban centers, under the name “Small towns water supply and sanitation sector project”.19

Fig. 1: Urban hierarchy in Lao PDR

Fig. 1: Urban hierarchy in Lao PDR

Source: map designed by the author.

  • 20 Pakse differs as well, as the border in Champassak province is not located on the Mekong River yet (...)

16As a conclusion, urban system in Lao PDR is characterized by three categories of cities, ranging from the capital city to regional urban centers and finally to smaller cities, that can be small-sized provincial capitals or district capitals. The main axis of urbanization regarding second-rank cities is the Mekong River, whereas the third-rank cities tend to be located outside this axis. Therefore, this spatial organization also means that the second-ranked cities are located on the international border with Thailand (with the exception of Luang Prabang) and are thus border towns.20

Lao PDR cities’ new functions in the context of transnational integration

  • 21 From the program implementation in 1992 to the end of 2011; 34% of the projects have been financed (...)

17Transnational integration represents a new scale of analysis and a process of spatial reconfiguration, by linking spaces that belong to different national territories that are not necessarily contiguous. These dynamics are directly linked with the regionalization processes that emerged in South East Asia in the 1990s. This essay focuses in particular on the Greater Mekong Subregion (GMS) flagship program for several reasons: initiated in the early 1990s, the amount of investment has been very substantial (totaling more than 15 billion US dollars in early 201221), as well as the outcomes as far as transport infrastructures are concerned. Furthermore, the program relies on an economic and spatial strategy, embodied by the “economic corridors”: two of the three corridors defined in the first decade of the program are crossing Lao PDR, positioned now as the crossroads of this transnational network. Finally, this program aims to develop cities located on the corridors, independently to their rank at the national level. As a result, the GMS program is likely to accelerate, by promoting transnational integration, the internationalization process of cities (including third-rank ones) located on corridors.

GMS regional integration framework and corridors’ strategy

  • 22 As defined by the Asian Development Bank, “an economic corridor is a geographical area in which inf (...)

18The Greater Mekong Subregion has been initiated in 1992 by the Asian Development Bank and encompasses five countries of mainland South East Asia (Myanmar, Thailand, Lao PDR, Cambodia and Vietnam) plus two Chinese provinces, Yunnan and Guangxi. The main objective of this program is to promote economic growth by reducing obstacles to cross-border trade. Therefore, the first step was to identify axis (or corridors) along which the investment should be prioritized and the border effects reduced.22 To facilitate movements of goods and capital, a cross-border transport agreement has been signed in 2003 and, besides from these “soft policy” initiatives, most of the investment focuses on transport infrastructures such as bridges, roads and border facilities: 90% of the investments realized between 1992 and 2010, 63% of the projected investments for the 2012-2014 period (ADB 2011: 1).

19The corridor network, analyzed in detail by Christian Taillard (2009) and Ruth Banomyong (2010), has been defined in two steps, a first set of three corridors in the beginning of the 1990s (East West Economic Corridor or EWEC, North South Economic Corridor or NSEC and Southern Corridor), and a second and more complex set ten years later. The 1450-kilometer-long EWEC corridor, achieved in 2009, is linking the Andaman Sea to the South China Sea from Danang in Vietnam to Moulmein in Myanmar and crosses Lao PDR’s territory through the province of Savannakhet, and Thailand’s territory without including any of the biggest Thai cities. The NSEC is linking two major cities at the regional scale, i.e. Bangkok and Kunming in Yunnan, by crossing first Thailand, then the former Golden Triangle zone at the borders of Thailand, Myanmar, Lao PDR and China. Three routes are planned in this area: one crossing Shan State in Myanmar, the second one through North Laos, and the third one is the Mekong River (Fig. 2). If the road network for this corridor has benefit from Thai and Chinese investments under the GMS framework, the missing link between 1992 and 2012 has been the Mekong Bridge between Chiang Khong and Houay Xay. One of the major evolutions with the densification of the corridors network in the 2000 decade is the integration of Vientiane in the North-East axis (Fig. 2); the Laotian capital was indeed forgotten in the first set of corridors.

Promotion of corridor towns under the GMS framework

  • 23 ADB is providing a definition of corridor towns, according to their economic functions: they are “t (...)
  • 24 According to Ruth Banomyong’s (2010: 34) classification of corridors: a transport corridor rallies (...)

20The implementation of corridors strategy within the GMS framework in the 1990s is likely to give more functions to cities located near the borders and on these corridors (border cities as well as inland cities).23 As stressed by ADB, border cities, due to their potential to attract private sector investments, can transform transport corridors into economic ones, combining transport and institutional approaches.24 Illustrating this importance, ADB has funded between 2010 and 2012 a technical assistance project on corridor towns focusing on nine cities in Lao PDR (Savannakhet, Phine and Dansavanh), Cambodia and Vietnam (ADB 2010).

  • 25 The first criterion used to describe “twin cities” is a geographic one, implying the existence of t (...)

21Manuelle Franck (2013) analyses the reconfiguration of urban hierarchy in South East Asia by the regionalization process. From the example of the Greater Mekong Subregion program, the author points out that cities located on corridors are now integrated in a new network going beyond borders. Three ranks of cities are emerging in this regional configuration: heads of corridors, articulating the region with the rest of the world; second rank cities (or “anchor towns”) that have commanding functions linked with the presence of the border as well as economic interactions with the national capital; and border cities (Franck 2013: 269-298). The latter can interact in two different ways: with the urban center located on the other side of the border (“twin cities”25) or with the anchor town in their national context (“pair cities”, Fig. 2).

Fig. 2: GMS Corridors network and reconfiguration of urban hierarchy

Fig. 2: GMS Corridors network and reconfiguration of urban hierarchy

Source: From Franck (2013: 275).

22Due to their localization on the international border with Thailand and the urban structure of the country characterized by a low density of cities on the east part of the territory, the two corridors towns of Houay Xay and Savannakhet can be considered as twin cities, linked respectively with Mukdahan and Chiang Khong in Thailand. If the latter Thai cities are interacting respectively with Khon Kaen and Chiang Rai, Lao PDR urban configuration is original, as border towns are not connected to anchor towns. According to ADB typology presented above, Savannakhet has been identified to have to the potential to be a border, commercial and interchange node, as well as Phitsanulok on the Thai portion of the same corridor (Fig.  2).

Investment and projects regarding Lao PDR cities: special economic zones and infrastructures

23To support the implementation of the Greater Mekong Subregion framework, focus has been made on transport infrastructure in the one hand and on border spaces on the other hand. Beside the cross-border agreement mentioned before, two types of projects are likely to impact, if not the urban development, at least the border cities’ spatial organization: Special Economic Zones and cross-border bridges.

  • 26 This topic has been developed by Danielle Tan in her PhD Thesis (2011), with an insight of the Gold (...)

24A Special Economic Zone (SEZ) is a type of free zone, where fiscal incentives are offered to the investors, located near an international border.26 Two main objectives are driving their promotion: enhance national competitiveness to attract foreign investors and promote industrial deconcentration and border zones that can be marginalized in the national territories. In 2013, five SEZ have been officially approved by the Government in Savannakhet, Bokeo, Luang Namtha, Khammouane border provinces and Vientiane Prefecture, and several other are under consideration. We will see, through Savannakhet and Houay Xay’ cases that the SEZ are likely to participate to the city transformations, even if they are not located within the city centers. Furthermore, by targeting foreign investors, they are likely to impact the relationships between the stakeholders involved in the cities’ transformations and increase internationalization. The creation of the National Committee for Special Economic Zones (NCSEZ) headed by the Vice-Prime Minister and counting members of various ministries is a way of acknowledging SEZ potential economic role (Nolintha 2011: 202).

  • 27 The main objective in this contribution is to describe the new urban forms produced by the internat (...)

25The second type of project impacting directly border towns under the GMS framework is the construction of cross-border bridges, also called “friendship bridges.” The first one over the Mekong is the one linking Thanaleng (a few kilometers from Vientiane) and Nong Khai in Thailand, opened to the public in 1994 and financed by Australian assistance. The GMS program has accelerated this dynamic, as the bridges appear as corridors essential links. In this perspective, the Second International Mekong Bridge (SMIB) between Savannakhet and Mukdahan on the East West Economic Corridor has been completed in 2007, financed by a Japanese loan. The third one linking Thakhek to Nakhon Phanom has been funded by the Thai Government and opened in November 2011, whereas the one between Houay Xay and Chiang Khong was almost finished in 2013. These bridges, that replace the former ways of crossing the border by ferry or boats, have spatial impacts, as they polarized activities linked with border crossing and are likely to extend urbanization or create new polarities, as developed in the case studies. Lao PDR cities located on the GMS corridors, as well as Thai border cities, have thus received investments under the GMS framework in heavy infrastructures projects that are likely to modify urban forms as well as diversifying stakeholders involved.27

Transformations and internationalization of Lao bordertowns: case studies of Savannakhet and Houay Xay

26Economic measures of liberalization starting from the end of the 1980s such as the Foreign Direct Investment law in 1994 as well as the regionalization processes starting in the 1990s create conditions for an increased internationalization. To illustrate these dynamics, two examples have been chosen. Savannakhet and Houay Xay are both located on GMS economic corridors, yet are differentiated in terms of rank in the urban hierarchy. As case studies suggest, transport infrastructures are the turning point by promoting transnational dynamics and, therefore, an unprecedented level of internationalization characterized by new actors producing urban forms. As Taillard points out (2010: 471), Savannakhet has been the first city in Lao PDR to benefit from the transnational integration induced by the Greater Mekong Subregion program, as the East West Economic Corridor was the first one to be achieved with the inauguration of the “Friendship bridge” linking Savannakhet to Mukdahan in 2006. On the other hand, the bridge between Houay Xay and Chiang Khong in Thailand, planned in the beginning of the 1990s, has finally been inaugurated in 2013. However, the city reconfiguration tends to show that investors and local authorities have anticipated the effects of the bridge.

Presentation of the two cities in their national context: a low level of internationalization before the GMS program

27If both cities are provincial capitals (Savannakhet and Bokeo provinces), economic and demographic features reflect the two cities’ different ranks in the national urban hierarchy (table 1).

Table 1: Basic demographic and economic indicators for Savannakhet and Bokeo provinces

City rank in the urban national hierarchy Population (inhabitants) Growth Provincial Product per habitant ($) Contribution to Growth Domestic Product (GDP,%)
Savannakhet ProvinceSavannakhet City 2 937,907 (2012)63,350 720 (2008) 12 (2008)
Bokeo ProvinceHouay Xay city 3 173,962 (2012)15,000 399 1.9 (2005)

Source: Urban populations have been estimated by the author from the 2005 Census.28 Provincial populations are estimations from the Lao Statistics Bureau.29 For Growth Provincial Products, see Nolintha (2011) and Tan (2011).

  • 30 In 2012, Savannakhet province population was 937,907 inhabitants. Vientiane Capital population (797 (...)

28Contribution of both provinces to national wealth differs drastically. From a demographic point of view, Savannakhet province is the second most populated province at the national scale (after Vientiane)30 when Bokeo is one of the least (after Sekong, Attapeu and Luang Namtha). Furthermore, with only 15% of lao population (interview with DPI), Bokeo province is characterized by a greater ethnic diversity compared to Savannakhet province. This difference can be explained by the cities’ location yet also by historical populations flows as described in the first part of this contribution. At the city scale, the demographic contrast appears also important, Savannakhet’s population is three times more important than Houay Xay’s one. In terms of infrastructures, Savannakhet and Houay Xay have an airport, yet only Savannakhet’s one offers international flights (to Bangkok), whereas Houay Xay airport provides flights to Vientiane four times a week. As far as road transportation is concerned, Savannakhet, located on the country’s main road, is also more integrated in the transportation network than Houay Xay, located almost 900 kilometers away from Vientiane (Fig. 1).

  • 31 For a precise insight of history of Official Development Assistance flows and bilateral interests i (...)

29For both cities and especially Houay Xay, the level of internationalization, as defined in introduction and considered from the independence period, was low before the implementation of the GMS framework. Official Development Assistance (ODA)31 providers and foreign private investments were the main actors of the urban transformations in Savannakhet. Before these transformations, Savannakhet was organized on a north-south axis, along the Mekong River and parallel streets that gathered administrative buildings, equipments, residential areas, main market and temples. Three main construction projects had latter an impact on city organization and functional zoning. The first one is the displacement of the fresh products market from the city center to the north of the urban perimeter in 1998. The new market, known as Talat Savanxay, was built with private Singaporean funds. The second project that changed the city organization is the administrative center funded by the ADB under the Secondary Towns project in 1998; most of the administrative buildings, spread along the river, have been relocated in a new-built neighborhood on the east side of the city. The last project also has a specific function: it is the construction of the stadium in 2005 in the north of the city to host the 7th National Games. This construction cost was endorsed by Oxiana Ltd., an Australian-based company involved in the mining industry in Sepon, as a gift to the province. These three projects show a first stage of internationalization by foreign actors and funds, and created new functional centers in Savannakhet, outside the perimeter of the historical city center.

  • 32 The border between Houay Xay and Chiang Khong was first reopened to cross-border trade on a tempora (...)
  • 33 For statistical data on crossborder trade between Chiang Khong and Houay Xay, see for example Swe (...)

30On the other hand, signs of internationalization in Houay Xay were lower than in Savannakhet, that can be partly explained by its rank in the national urban hierarchy, as second-rank cities attracted more FDI and assistance flows. As mentioned in the first part of this contribution, Houay Xay first growth and modernization happened in the 1960s and 1970s, fueled by two factors: US assistance and drug trafficking. Alfred McCoy (1972: 155) underlines precisely the city role as a center of production and a node of heroin traffic to Bangkok and Saigon. If the instauration of the Republic in 1975 led to an outflow of Chinese merchants and the stagnation of urban growth, political situation changes affected directly the city at the end of the 1980s with the border opening32 that creates conditions for an increased internationalization. Flows intensified during the 1990’s;33 cross-border trade and the emergence of international tourism are two dynamics leading to the requalification and of the merchant street along the Mekong River banks. However, the internationalization process including increasing international capital flows has been amplified later, with the progress of GMS North-South Economic Corridor.

GMS projects fostering internationalization dynamics endorsed by new actors

31The internalization of Laotian border cities under the GMS framework can be analyzed through the diversification of stakeholders involved in various projects at the city scale. The main stakeholders identified to characterize and explain the ongoing internationalization process in Savannakhet are the foreign investors and entrepreneurs. The number of foreign and joint-venture companies doubled in the province between 2005 and 2008 with the bridge completion, from 30 in 2005 to 70 in 2008 (interview with Savannakhet Province’s Department of Planning and Investment). It is noteworthy that among the new companies operating in Kaysone Phomvihane District during this period, 12 are located in the city north area near the bridge and only three in the historical city center. Two main projects testifying from this greater internationalization have an impact on the city organization: Savan-Seno Special Economic Zone (SSEZ) and Savan Vegas Casino.

  • 34 According to an interview with the SSEZ Authority, Savan Pacifica Development, a joint venture with (...)

32Established by Prime Ministerial decree in 2003, the SSEZ has shown dynamism since the completion of the bridge. The initial plan identified two sites, yet this plan has been modified to four on a 600 hectare surface: Savan City (A), Logistic Park (B), Savan Park (C) and a resettlement site (D). All these sites are located in the north of the urban area, near the bridge (site A), along route 9 (sites C and D), except site B located in Seno. Joint ventures between the Lao government and foreign companies are in charge of developing this new commercial, industrial and logistic hub.34 34 projects were validated in 2012. Despite a government will to develop the SSEZ, the private sector relay is still incomplete and happened after the international bridge opening achieving the East-West Economic Corridor. According to a study published in 2013 by the Mekong Migration Network and Asian Migrant Centre, the slow development of the SSEZ explains limited migration flows in Savannakhet (MMN, AMC 2013: 284). At the city scale, the emergence of a new urban polarity has created population movements inside the city that started before the bridge opening, with for example an increase of inhabitants in urban villages located near the bridge. Finally, the same study underlines the fact that the implementation of the SSEZ, especially of the site C, has provoked limited resettlements, increase of land prices and economic activity (ibid.: 288).

33The Casino is another example to show how the presence of foreign investors can impact the urban landscape. The project of Lao PDR second casino was launched in 2006, although the construction of the building only started in 2007, and was opened to the public in April 2009. The shareholders are Sanum Investments, from Macao (60%), Laotian government (20%) and domestic private funds (20%). The casino complex, located in the north of the bridge area gathers on a 50-hectare land concession a casino, a hotel, one restaurant and other smaller services. Most of the customers are Thai, especially from the neighboring provinces; a shuttle departing every hour from Mukdahan on the other side of the bridge provides a transfer to the Casino, which represents an alternative way of crossing the border. The company also provides transfer from Vientiane, Pakse, and cities of central Vietnam. According to Sanum Investments, the Savan Vegas represents the second source of income for the province, after the mining industry. An impact study led by NERI (IUCN, NERI 2011: 15) argues that the Casino has generated 2.1 million dollars in 2011. Furthermore, in terms of human resources, it employed the same year around 1,500 persons, including 1,300 Lao nationals.

34In Houay Xay, other types of actors participate to the city internationalization. In 2008, only 10% of international tourists in Lao PDR were visiting Bokeo province and 13% Savannakhet Province (Lao National Tourism Authority 2009: 21). However, infrastructures linked with tourism participate to reorganize Houay Xay. The city is indeed an access to Lao PDR from Thailand, and to join by boat the UNESCO World heritage city of Luang Prabang. As a result, the main street, along the Mekong River, has been restructured with services designated to tourists, such as guesthouses, cybercafés and restaurants, and is organized around two polarities: the pier to cross to Chiang Khong in the city center, and the one going to Luang Prabang by slow boats upstream. The number of guesthouses has doubled in the city between 2005 and 2010, from 20 to 39 establishments (interview with Department of Planning and Investment, 2011). However, accommodation offer is more developed on the other side of the Mekong in Chiang Khong, where the infrastructures propose a greater diversity of hotels located on the upgraded riverbanks.

35The other type of actors identified in Houay Xay is the foreign investors, Chinese investors more specifically, as 76% of FDI received by Bokeo province between 1995 and 2010 are Chinese (Tan 2012: 71). Danielle Tan investigates very precisely in her PhD thesis the Chinese presence in the city throughout the example of the Chinese market, which has been displaced in 2005 downstream of the city center (Tan 2011: 412).

Internationalization dynamics and transnational integration impacting the urban organization

36In the case of Savannakhet, the emerging centralities are following an axis to the north (Fig. 3a). After the city densification and development until the 1990s, the next step of extension for Savannakhet was the creation of a new center with the construction of the fresh market and the bus station; the second step is currently a north polarization with the construction of the bridge and infrastructures linked to its presence, such as the Casino or the Special Economic Zone. Peripheral areas in the north are facing a densification of the urban frame. The emergence of these new centralities raises unprecedented challenges for the local authorities, such as the connection between the old and the new urban centers, as pointed out in Savannakhet by the Urban Development Agency (UDAA), or the increasing population in these new centers. In 2012, the construction sites in the road linking the city center to the bridge area suggest the development of this “in-between area” as a potential urban centrality (Fig. 3a). Future equipments include a new Thai Consulate or the Savan ITECC, a business and recreational center financed by the Tang family, based on the Vientiane center model. However, in Savannakhet, the bridge new centrality confirms the previous axis of urbanization, as the city is extending to the north.

  • 35 The idea of this bridge was already formulated by the Chatichai Government in Thailand in the early (...)

37On the opposite side in Houay Xay, the bridge has inverted the trend of urban growth, from upstream (pier and merchant street) to downstream. Projects in the bridge area testify from the anticipation of the infrastructure effects by the private sector. For example, the Government authorized a land concession of 2.4 square kilometers to a Thai-Korean consortium to build a high-standard hotel complex that was inaugurated when the bridge opened in 2013. Furthermore, land prices have been rising in this area as soon as 2007 (Lin & Grundy-War 2012: 12), as an anticipation to the bridge construction, postponed many times in the 1990s and 2000s.35 It is highly predictable that this area should face in a short term an increase of population and infrastructures. The originality in Houay Xay is that the spatial organization’s transformations relative to the bridge have been anticipated by the authorities that created a specific area of planning. This peri-center acts the city development downstream and articulates the historical center with the bridge area (Fig. 3b). Several urban infrastructures have been developed in this low-urbanized area, including the new Chinese market, a bus station and several hotels financed by domestic private funds. The special planning and development of this area can be explained by the bridge location: almost 10 kilometers away from the city center, the potential danger will be that flows of people coming from Chiang Rai cross the bridge without stopping in Houay Xay. A dynamic urban polarity located between the historical center and the bridge could mitigate this side-effect.

Fig. 3a Savannakhet’s extension to the bridge area

Fig. 3a Savannakhet’s extension to the bridge area

Source: maps designed by the author.

Fig. 3b Emergence of a peri-urban centrality in Houay Xay linked with the bridge construction

Fig. 3b Emergence of a peri-urban centrality in Houay Xay linked with the bridge construction

Source: maps designed by the author.

38At another scale, the potential success of transnational integration in these corridors border cities is also directly linked with the urban center located on the other side of the international border, as Lao PDR cities are functioning in pairs (Fig. 2).

  • 36 Until 2009, Nong Khai-Vientiane was the main post for Thai-Lao border trade; the importance of Mukd (...)

39In the case of Savannakhet-Mukdahan, transnational integration is limited by the weakness of private investment in the Thai city and the asymmetry in the internationalization processes (Lainé 2013). Mukdahan, with 44,000 inhabitants, is a third-rank city in Thailand, located in a peripheral area. Our fieldtrips show that urban transformations in Mukdahan are less important than in Savannakhet, as the city main axis of urbanization is the road to Khon Kaen and not the one to the bridge (Lainé 2011: 345). Furthermore, the internationalization by actors is also limited in Mukdahan; that can be explained by the fact that Thai Government’s strategy has been to develop national investment. The industrial zone in Mukdahan, delayed since a decade, testify of the low level of private investors. Nevertheless, cross-border integration is fostered by increasing cross-border trade, as Mukdahan-Savannakhet stands since 2009 as the first custom post between Thailand and Laos in terms of traffic, after Nong Khai-Vientiane. According to the statistics compiled by the Bank of Thailand, the value of cross-border trade in Mukdahan customs post accounted in 2011 for 2,420 million of dollars, compared to 1,591 in Nong Khai.36

40On the other hand, Houay Xay and Chiang Khong (10,990 inhabitants) testify from symmetry in the urban forms produced, as both cities are now extending to the bridge area and historical centers are transformed by tourism functions. However, transnational integration is more important if one considers the polycentric system of small towns emerging in the Economic Quadrangle area. Organized on each side of the Mekong, this system encompasses in Thailand Chiang Khong, Chiang Saen and Sop Ruak, facing respectively Houay Xay and Ton Pheung. If infrastructures are also being developed on the Thai side of the border, with the construction of ports (in Chiang Saen and Sop Ruak) and tourism facilities, the main difference lays in the origin of the capital invested: national in Thailand, and mainly Chinese in Lao PDR.

Conclusion

41Lao PDR urbanization is still low compared to the world average; however, rapid urbanization growth suggests that cities will experience in the short term various transformations, such as challenge for the local authorities to provide basic infrastructures or pressure on the local environment. The context of further regional integration analyzed in this contribution represents another driver for change in Lao PDR cities.

42Cities in Lao PDR show indeed different stages of transformations and internationalization. Internationalization of border cities located on the corridors can be explained by exogenous and endogenous dynamics. The first one are linked to regionalization, as border cities become nodes of economic corridors, whereas the latter are driven by national strategy to promote economic attractiveness of these cities.

43Transnational integration and internationalization characterized by increasing flows and diversification of stakeholders have been initiating an unprecedented phase of urbanization, in border cities located on GMS corridors (other cities outside these corridors are for the moment less affected by these dynamics). The local authorities are facing a new challenge of coordinating various stakeholders’ projects (such as national and international investors, ODA experts or international tourists) that are likely to impact the urban landscape in various ways. This phase produces indeed urban forms that do not apply traditionally to cities of this size, such as industrial and economic zones, casinos, cross-border infrastructures, requalification of city centers and new centralities with urban equipments. These cities can be seen as “tools” in the national strategy to develop land-locked or peripheral places (such as Houay Xay) or to foster investment in second-rank cities (such as Savannakhet). Nevertheless, these transformations raise the fact that the infrastructures implemented can be oversized compared to traffic, population and consumption. For example, Savan Seno Special Economic Zone’s development, which started with the bridge opening, remains slow, showing difficulties to attract foreign investors. Furthermore, the socioeconomic and environmental impacts of these large-size infrastructures such as Casinos can be discussed at the local level.

44Finally, the impact of internationalization and transnational integration can also be analyzed at a broader scale, as border opening in the context of regionalization has reinforced commercial and social interactions between cities located on each side of the border, as shown in the last part of this contribution.

45Asian Development Bank (ADB), 1997, Report and Recommendation of the President to the Board of Directors on a proposed loan to the Lao PDR for the Secondary Towns Urban Development Project, Manila: ADB.

46ADB, 2004, The GMS Beyond Borders, Regional Cooperation Strategy and Program 2004-2008, Manila: ADB, 2004

47ADB, 2010, “Preparing the Corridor Towns Development Project”, Technical Assistance Report.

48ADB, 2011, “Greater Mekong Subregion 2012-2014”, Regional Cooperation Operations Business Plan. available at http://www.adb.org/​sites/​default/​files/​institutional-document/​33263/​files/​rcobp-gms-2012-2014.pdf

49ADB, 2012, Overview: Greater Mekong Subregion Cooperation Program, Manila: ADB.

50ADB, 2013, Key Indicators for Asia and the Pacific, Manila: ADB.

51ASKEW, Mark, William LOGAN & Colin LONG, Vientiane, Transformations of a Lao Landscape, New York: Routledge, 2007

52BANOMYONG, Ruth, 2010, “Benchmarking Economic Corridors Logistics Performance: a GMS Border Crossing Observation”, World Customs Journal, 4-1: 29-38.

53BOUTÉ, Vanina, 2012, “Migrations paysannes et villes émergentes. Vers de nouvelles formes de réseaux et de différenciations sociales au nord Laos”, in Laos sociétés et pouvoirs, Vanina Bouté &Vatthana Pholsena, ed., Bangkok/Paris: IRASEC/Les Indes Savantes, pp. 117-138.

54CLÉMENT, Pierre, Sophie CLÉMENT-CHARPENTIER, Charles GOLDBLUM, Bounleuam SISOULATH & Christian TAILLARD, ed., 2010, Vientiane, architectures d’une capitale, traces, formes, structures, projets, Paris: Cahiers de l’IPRAUS.

55FRANCK, Manuelle, Charles GOLDBLUM & Christian TAILLARD, 2012, Territoires de l’urbain en Asie du Sud-Est, Métropolisations en mode mineur, Paris: CNRS Editions.

56FRANCK, Manuelle, 2013, “Twin Cities and Urban Pairs, A New Level in Urban Hierarchies structuring Transnational Corridors? A Case study of the Pekanbaru-Dumai Urban Pair”, in Transnational Dynamics in Southeast Asia: the Greater Mekong Subregion and Malacca Strait Economic Corridors, Nathalie Fau, Sirivanh Khonthapane & Christian Taillard, ed., Singapour: ISEAS, pp. 269-298.

57GLASSMAN, Jim, 2010, Bounding the Mekong: the Asian Development Bank, China and Thailand, Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press.

58GOLDBLUM, Charles & Karine PEYRONNIE (with the collaboration of Saisana Prathoumvan), 2010, “VUDAA, Vientiane Urban Development & Administration Authority. Perspectives de la gouvernance urbaine de Vientiane, entre autonomie municipale et logiques de projets (1985-2009)”, in Vientiane, architectures d’une capitale, traces, formes, structures, projets, Pierre Clément, Sophie Clément-Charpentier, Charles Goldblum, Bounleuam Sisoulath & Christian Taillard, ed., Paris: Cahiers de l’IPRAUS, pp. 401-409.

59International Union for Conservation of Nature/National Economic Research Institute (IUCN/NERI), 2011, Report on Economic, Social and Environmental Costs and Benefits of Investments in Savannakhet Province.

60LABARTHE, Christian, 1969, “Quelques aspects du développement des villes du Laos”, DES, Faculté des Lettres et Sciences humaines, Institut de géographie, Université de Bordeaux, Bordeaux.

61LAFONT, Pierre-Bernard, 1991, “Aperçu sur l’évolution urbaine au Laos”, Péninsule indochinoise, Études urbaines, Paris: L’Harmattan, pp. 103-119.

62LAINÉ, Elsa, 2011, « Les villes frontalières thaïlandaises dans la régionalisation », Moussons, 18 : 51-75.

63LAINÉ, Elsa, 2013, “Mukdahan and Savannakhet, Internationalization Process of Twin Mekong border cities on the East-West Economic Corridor”, in Transnational Dynamics in Southeast Asia: the Greater Mekong Subregion and Malacca Strait Economic Corridors, Nathalie Fau, Sirivanh Khonthapane & Christian Taillard, ed., Singapour: ISEAS, pp. 338-356.

64Lao National Tourism Authority (LNTA), 2010, 2009 Statistical Report on Tourism in Laos.

65Lao PDR, 1999, Law on Urban Plans. n°03-99/NA.

66Lao PDR, 2003, Law on Local Administration. n°47/NA.

67Lao PDR, 2005, National Census.

68LIN, Shaun & Carl Grundy-Warr, 2012, ”One Bridge, Two Towns and Three Countries: Anticipatory Geopolitics in the Greater Mekong Subregion”, Geopolitics, 17, 4: 952-979.

69LORD, Montague, 2009, “The Strategic Role of Corridor Towns in the Development of GMS Economic Corridors”, paper prepared for the ADB and presented at the 5th “GMS Development Dialogue”.

70MABBITT, Richard, 2006, “Lao People’s Democratic Republic”, in Urbanization and Sustainability in Asia: Case Studies of Good Practice, Brian Roberts &Trevor Kanaley, Manila: Asian Development Bank.

71McCOY, Alfred, 1972, The Politics of Heroin: CIA Complicity in the Global Drug Trade, Chicago: Lawrence Hill Books.

72McGEE, Terry, 1967, The Southeast Asian city: a Social Geography of the Primate Cities of Southeast Asia, London: Bell.

73Mekong Migration Network (MMN) and Asian Migrant Centre (AMC), 2013, “Migration in the Greater Mekong Subregion, Ressource Book, In-depth Study: Border Economic Zones and Migration”, Chiang Mai, January 2013 (4th edition).

74MELLAC, Marie, 2013, “Vietnam, an Opening under Control, Lao Cai on the Kunming-Haiphong Economic Corridor”, in Transnational Dynamics in Southeast Asia: the Greater Mekong Subregion and Malacca Strait Economic Corridors, Nathalie Fau, Sirivanh Khonthapane & Christian Taillard, ed., Singapour: ISEAS, pp. 143-174.

75Ministry of Planning and Investment (MPI), Lao PDR, 2011, Socioeconomic Plan 2011-2015, Vientiane.

76PEYRONNIE, Karine & Charles GOLDBLUM, 2010, “Figures pionnières de l’internationalisation de la production urbaine à Vientiane”, in Vientiane, architectures d’une capitale, traces, formes, structures, projets, Pierre Clément, Sophie Clément-Charpentier, Charles Goldblum, Bounleuam Sisoulath & Christian Taillard, ed., Paris: Cahiers de l’IPRAUS, pp. 453-464.

77PHOLSENA, Vatthana, 2013, “There is More to Road: Modernity, Memory and Economics Corridors in Huóng Hoá-Sepon Lao-Viet Border Area”, in Transnational Dynamics in Southeast Asia: the Greater Mekong Subregion and Malacca Strait Economic Corridors, Nathalie Fau, Sirivanh Khonthapane & Christian Taillard, ed., Singapour: ISEAS, pp. 377-398.

78NOLINTHA, Vanthana, 2011, “Cities, SEZs and Connectivity in Major Provinces of Laos”, in Intra- et Inter- City Connectivity in the Mekong Region, Masami Ishida, ed., BRC Research Report n°6, Bangkok: IDE-JETRO.

79PHRAXAYAVONG, Viliam, 2009, History of Aid to Laos, Chiang Mai: Mekong Press.

80SASSEN, Saskia, 1991, The Global City: New York, London, Tokyo, Princeton: Princeton University Press.

81SISOULATH, Bounleuam, 2011, Vientiane, stratégies de développement urbain, Paris: Comité de Coopération avec le Laos (2th edition).

82SISOUPHANTHONG, Bounthavy & Christian TAILLARD, 2000, Atlas de la République démocratique populaire lao. Les structures territoriales du développement économique et social, Paris: CNRS-Libergéo-La Documentation française.

83SWE, Thein & Paul CHAMBERS, 2011, Cashing In across the Golden Triangle. Thailand’s Northern Border Trade with China, Laos and Myanmar, Chiang Mai: Mekong Press.

84TAILLARD, Christian, 2009, “Un exemple réussi de régionalisation transnationale en Asie orientale: les corridors de la Région du Grand Mékong”, L’Espace Géographique, 1: 1-16.

85TAILLARD, Christian, 2010, “La Région du Grand Mékong, une nouvelle étape dans l’internationalisation de Vientiane", in Vientiane, architectures d’une capitale, traces, formes, structures, projets, Pierre Clément, Sophie Clément-Charpentier, Charles Goldblum, Bounleuam Sisoulath & Christian Taillard, ed., Paris: Cahiers de l’IPRAUS, pp. 465-475.

86TAN, Danielle, 2011, “Du communisme au néolibéralisme, le rôle des réseaux chinois dans la transformation de l’Etat au Laos”, unpublished PhD Thesis, Paris: Institut d’Etudes Politiques.

87TAN, Danielle, 2012, “Small is Beautiful: Lessons from Laos for the Study of Chinese Overseas”, Journal of Current Chinese Affairs, 41, 2: 61-94.

88WALKER, Andrew, 1999, The Legend of the Golden Boat: Regulation, Trade and Traders in the Borderlands of Laos, Thailand, China and Burma, Honolulu: Hawai’i University Press.

Haut de page

Note de fin

1 For economic integration and stakeholders’ reconfiguration at the regional scale, see for example Glassman (2010).

2 For example Bounleuam (2011), Peyronnie & Goldblum (2010) or more generally, Clément, Clément-Charpentier, Goldblum,, Bounleuam & Taillard, éd. (2010).

3 The official name of the city is Kaysone Phomvihane since 2005, as a tribute to the former Prime Minister and President of Lao PDR, born in the city in 1920. However, the former name of Savannakhet will be used in this contribution, as it is still mainly used in the literature and also to avoid confusion with Kaysone Phomvihane district, which encompasses the city but also rural villages.

4 At a more precise scale, the two roads do not cross in the city center, but in Seno, located about a dozen kilometers northeast of Savannakhet city center.

5 According to the translations, this law is also known under the name “Law on Urban Planning.” The “Law on Urban Plans” is the English translation endorsed by the Law Committee of the National Assembly. Notably, the term “municipality” was absent in the 1991 Constitution that defines central government, provinces, districts and villages as institutional and territorial levels. However, it has been included in the 2003 amended Constitution, as article 77 specifies the chief of municipality’s rights and duties (Lao PDR 2003: 15).

6 “It is the location of a capital city of the country, or of a municipal city, a provincial city, a special zone city, or an area of socioeconomic concentration; It has a certain density of population; It has a public infrastructure and supply system, such as road networks, sewerage systems, hospitals, schools, stadiums, public parks, water supply, electricity, telephone and others” (Lao PDR 1999: 2).

7 According to it, the status of municipality can be acknowledged only if all the following criteria are met: “1. Occupy a large urban area that is the centre of economic, political and sociocultural activities, and of tourism, services, commerce, communications, transport and foreign affairs; 2. Make a significant contribution to the socioeconomic development of the country; 3. Have a population of at least eight thousand; (and) 4. Have a developed infrastructure and public facilities” (Lao PDR 2003: 6).

8 According to this method, 17% of Lao PDR’s population was leaving in urban villages by the 1995 Census. In the 2005 survey, a demographic criterion is added, as an urban village should have more than 600 inhabitants or 100 households (Lao PDR 2005).

9 Started in March 2000 with a Prime Minister instruction on development units, decentralization process has taken a step forward with the 2003 Law on Local Administration that definies rights and duties of provincial, district, municipal and villages levels (Mabitt 2006: 196).

10 For a precise insight of the VUDAA, see for example Goldblum & Peyronnie (2010).

11 Under the Prime Minister Decree (177/PM), four UDAAs have been implemented in Savannakhet, Pakse, Thakhkek and Luang Prabang on October 22, 1997.

12 As C. Labarthe argues, the village of Song Khone has first been selected to settle the administrative center; located in the inland, it has been rejected in favor of Savannakhet (Labarthe 1969). Lao PDR historical cities share a common trend with most of the South East Asian ones, i.e. their location on riverbanks (see for example also McGee 1967).

13 If the adjective “Laotian” refers in this contribution to nationality from Lao PDR, the adjective “lao” is used here to insist on the ethnic origin of the population.

14 According to Pierre-Bernard Lafont statistics (1991: 117), population in Pakse dropped from 35,000 inhabitants in 1968 to 20,000 in 1986; on the other hand, Savannakhet’s population of 1986, amounting to 50,000, is equal to the 1973 situation.

15 This organization is deeply contrasting from the neighboring countries and especially Thailand: even if the two countries have a major river (Mekong River for Lao PDR and Chao Phraya River for Thailand) as a north-south axis of organization, the main difference is that in Thailand this axis is in the center of the country, which places the international borders in the peripheries. Furthermore, Thailand is characterized by the primacy of Bangkok, in other words by a monocentric urban structure.

16 Regions do not appear as a formal administrative level in Lao PDR’s administration, in contrast to provinces or districts. However, this scale of analysis is used in the official texts; for example, the 7th Five-Year National Socio-Economic Development Plan (2011-2015) identifies three regions as well. The Northern Region encompasses eight provinces, the Central one five (including Savannakhet) and the Southern one four (MPI 2011: 39). It is noteworthy that according to these different sources, Savannakhet province can be either related to the Central region, either to the Southern one.

17 Article 3 of 1999 Law on Urban Plans classified cities according to three levels: cities under the control of central government, referring to large cities; medium-sized provincial capitals; cities under the control of district authorities or smaller-sized district capitals (Lao PDR, 1999). Vientiane capital, due to its size and political importance, can be considered as the main city of the first category, or as the only first-ranked city, as presented in Fig. 1.

18 The previous Socio-Economic Development Plan of Lao PDR (1996-2000) has been putting emphasis on promoting greater regional socioeconomic development through investment in provincial infrastructures in a context of increasing provincial urbanization.

19 Initiated in 2009 and still in progress, this project lies on two pillars: an institutional support to the local authorities and the extension and improvement of sanitation and water supply networks. http://www.adb.org/projects/36339-022/main (accessed in July 2014).

20 Pakse differs as well, as the border in Champassak province is not located on the Mekong River yet on the mainland (Fig. 1). However, the bridge on the Mekong River in Pakse facilitates connections with Thailand by reducing transport time and costs to the border and can thus be compared to a cross-border infrastructure.

21 From the program implementation in 1992 to the end of 2011; 34% of the projects have been financed by ADB, 37.3% by foreign direct assistance and 28.7% by member States (ADB 2012: 3-4).

22 As defined by the Asian Development Bank, “an economic corridor is a geographical area in which infrastructure investments are linked directly with trade, investment and production opportunities” (ADB 2004: 31).

23 ADB is providing a definition of corridor towns, according to their economic functions: they are “towns which produce basic goods, which transform products into higher value products and towns which provide national and international access to these products” (Lord 2009: 4). From a functional criterion and according from the same source, different types of corridor towns have been identified: commercial nodes/border nodes/gateway nodes (access points to external markets) and interchange nodes (intersection points in the transport network).

24 According to Ruth Banomyong’s (2010: 34) classification of corridors: a transport corridor rallies two territories and can be multimodal, using different ways of transportation; a logistic corridor requires border crossing procedures harmonization whereas the economic corridor, more likely to attract investments, is completed by an institutional framework.

25 The first criterion used to describe “twin cities” is a geographic one, implying the existence of two urban centers facing each other on each side of the international border. If they can be linked by an institutional agreement (“twin cities” or “sister cities” agreement), this institutional aspect is an optional requirement, compared to the interactions (formal and informal) existing between the two cities. Finally, the expression “twin cities” should be nuanced as it implies a resemblance or symmetry between the two urban centers, which is limited in reality, in terms of population, urban landscape or economic activities. Several cases studies of twin cities interactions in the Greater Mekong Subregion have been developed; see for example Mellac (2013).

26 This topic has been developed by Danielle Tan in her PhD Thesis (2011), with an insight of the Golden Triangle Special Economic Zone in Bokeo province.

27 The main objective in this contribution is to describe the new urban forms produced by the internationalization process. The impacts in terms of socioeconomic development cannot be investigated here. To get another point of view on the East-West Economic Corridor impacts on livelihoods, see for example Pholsena (2013).

28 The method used in this contribution for estimating urban population at the city scale is to aggregate inhabitants of villages integrated in the urbanized area of each city (urban villages as well as rural villages). The scope of the urbanized area is characterized by density of built-in area, and is delimitated by using satellite images and observation. Lao National Census of 2005 is providing population for each village.

29 http://nsc.gov.la/index2.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=37&Itemid=38&lang=en (accessed in July 2014).

30 In 2012, Savannakhet province population was 937,907 inhabitants. Vientiane Capital population (797,130) added to Vientiane Province population (506,881) amounted to 1,304,011 inhabitants. From Lao National Bureau Social Statistics, accessed in September 2014:

http://www.nsc.gov.la/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=37&Itemid=160.

31 For a precise insight of history of Official Development Assistance flows and bilateral interests in Lao PDR, see for example Phraxayavong (2009).

32 The border between Houay Xay and Chiang Khong was first reopened to cross-border trade on a temporary basis in 1987, and then permanently in 1989 under the pressure of Chiang Rai Chamber of Commerce. Houay Xay-Chiang Khong has been then promoted as an international border crossing in 1993 (Walker 1999: 72).

33 For statistical data on crossborder trade between Chiang Khong and Houay Xay, see for example Swe & Chambers (2011).

34 According to an interview with the SSEZ Authority, Savan Pacifica Development, a joint venture with 70% of Malaysian capital, has for example invested 14 million of dollars in 2008 for developing site C under a 50 years concession. In 2010, 16 projects have been approved in this site.

35 The idea of this bridge was already formulated by the Chatichai Government in Thailand in the early 1990s. Feasibility studies were conducted by ADB in the beginning of the 2000s and identified three sites for the bridge. The budget formulated by Thailand was approved at the GMS Ministerial Conference in June 2007, although construction works officially started in June 2010.

36 Until 2009, Nong Khai-Vientiane was the main post for Thai-Lao border trade; the importance of Mukdahan-Savannakhet cross-border trade can be explained by the value of Thai imports from Lao PDR (copper for example). According to the same statistics, Nong Khai-Vientiane and Mukdahan-Savannakhet accounted for 80% of Thai-Lao cross-border trade total value: http://www.bot.or.th/English/Statistics/RegionalEconFinance/Northeastern/Pages/ForeignTrade.aspx (accessed in September 2014).

Haut de page

Table des illustrations

Titre Fig. 1: Urban hierarchy in Lao PDR
Crédits Source: map designed by the author.
URL http://moussons.revues.org/docannexe/image/3258/img-1.png
Fichier image/png, 150k
Titre Fig. 2: GMS Corridors network and reconfiguration of urban hierarchy
Crédits Source: From Franck (2013: 275).
URL http://moussons.revues.org/docannexe/image/3258/img-2.png
Fichier image/png, 113k
Titre Fig. 3a Savannakhet’s extension to the bridge area
Crédits Source: maps designed by the author.
URL http://moussons.revues.org/docannexe/image/3258/img-3.png
Fichier image/png, 77k
Titre Fig. 3b Emergence of a peri-urban centrality in Houay Xay linked with the bridge construction
Crédits Source: maps designed by the author.
URL http://moussons.revues.org/docannexe/image/3258/img-4.png
Fichier image/png, 76k
Haut de page

Pour citer cet article

Référence papier

Elsa Lainé, « Urban Development and New Actors in Lao PDR in the Context of Regionalization: Case Studies of two Border Towns », Moussons, 25 | 2015, 99-122.

Référence électronique

Elsa Lainé, « Urban Development and New Actors in Lao PDR in the Context of Regionalization: Case Studies of two Border Towns », Moussons [En ligne], 25 | 2015, mis en ligne le 24 septembre 2015, consulté le 24 novembre 2017. URL : http://moussons.revues.org/3258 ; DOI : 10.4000/moussons.3258

Haut de page

Auteur

Elsa Lainé

Elsa-Xuân Lainé is graduated from a master degree in urban development (Institut d’études politiques de Paris/Asian Institute of Technology, Bangkok) and, since December 2013, from a doctorate in Geography at Institut National des Langues et Civilisations Orientales (INALCO). Her research focuses on Thai and Lao border cities transformations in the context of regionalization and transnational integration. Most of the data in this contribution have been collected during her fieldtrips in Lao PDR between 2009 and 2012, with the assistance of the National Economic and Research Institute (NERI) in Vientiane.

Articles du même auteur

Haut de page

Droits d’auteur

Licence Creative Commons
Les contenus de la revue Moussons sont mis à disposition selon les termes de la Licence Creative Commons Attribution - Pas d’Utilisation Commerciale - Pas de Modification 4.0 International.

Haut de page