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Predation or Paternalism? Yunnan State Farms’ territorial strategies in Laos

Authors: Juliet Lu*, University of California - Berkeley
Topics: China, Political Geography, Asia
Keywords: Territoriality, China, rubber, Laos, plantations, development cooperation
Session Type: Paper
Presentation File: No File Uploaded

In 2012, the managers at the Yunnan State Farms (YNSF) branch in Lao were frustrated with their limited access to land. In 2002, they had signed an agreement with the Lao government to develop 300,000 ha of rubber across northern Lao, but ten years later they had only obtained a 347 ha concession. When I returned in 2017, however, the same managers shrugged off their lack of direct access to land. The company had since changed its approach to focus on consolidating control over latex processing and export in northern Laos. More importantly, they had broken ground on an “Agricultural Development Cooperation Center” in Vientiane, the capital of Laos, and were marketing the center as a hub for the Belt and Road Initiative. This paper examines three distinct approaches through which YNSF has positioned itself as a representative of the Chinese state, and a development partner to the Lao government. I discuss how the YNSF Center in Vientiane fits in interesting ways into the Lao state’s own territorial strategies, while also functioning as a bargaining chip for the company to ask for further Lao and Chinese state support in its pursuit of expanded land access and market share. I use the YNSF case to demonstrate the integration of Chinese business and development cooperation activities overseas as one way in which the Chinese state extends territorial influence beyond its official political borders through non-state entities.

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