Thursday, March 02, 2023

Laos - the "People's" Republic

 Laos is officially named the Lao People’s Democratic Republic or Lao PDR. Some left-wingers consider the country's economy  to be "actually existing socialism."

The UN said says Laos has become a “major transhipment point” for drug traffickers moving their product into Thailand, the wider Mekong region and further afield in the Asia Pacific. 

143 million meth tablets were seized in Laos in 2021 after entering the country from the Shan State of neighbouring Myanmar. In the first month of 2022, Laos authorities seized 36 million pills and almost 600kg of crystal meth. 

“These large seizures point towards organised crime groups increasingly diverting their trafficking operations through Lao PDR,” the UN said.

The one-party state is also to the capitalist spirit of the Kings Romans casino complex in the country’s northwestern Bokeo province. It is a Chinese-owned gambling city. The sky is lit up by light shows and filled with the techno music techno beat from the Kings Romans casino complex. Maseratis and Ranger Rovers are seen alongside bright-red hammer-and-sickle flags while heavy trucks transport building materials and excavate foundations for luxury, multi-storey condominiums being built. Building work is going on in earnest and countless palm trees have been planted along the city’s roadsides, probably in the hope of turning this baking-hot corner of Laos into a tree-lined Macau-style retreat for wealthy gamblers. They mostly come from China, although some come from Thailand, too.  A new airport is under construction. The casino’s operators want the airport to facilitate the arrival of international gamblers.

 Kings Romans casino operates in what is the Golden Triangle Special Economic Zone (SEZ). The growing gambling complex under a lengthy lease bestowed by the Laos government to Zhao Wei, a 70-year-old Chinese businessman. In 2018, the United States Treasury Department described Zhao and his enterprises as a “transnational criminal organisation” that had engaged “in an array of horrendous illicit activities”.

“Since 2014, Thai, Lao, and Chinese authorities have seized large narcotics shipments that have been traced to the Kings Romans Casino,” the Treasury said.

The Treasury also alleged that the “Zhao Wei crime network” engaged in child prostitution, human trafficking and trafficking of endangered as well as vulnerable wildlife.

 The Kings Romans owner Zhao, a former timber trader, who got his start in Macau’s gambling scene said his complex was a “drug-free zone”. Shortly after an Al Jazeera TV team’s visit, police discovered 20 sacks of methamphetamine pills on the grounds of the SEZ valued at $1.6m.

“It has long been implicated in human trafficking and drug smuggling, and caters to a predominantly Chinese high roller clientele seeking out bear-paw soup and tiger-bone wine to go with their rounds of baccarat and call girls,” the South China Morning Post wrote of Kings Romans in October.

“Laos treats the area like an autonomous state, subject to its own rules,” the SCMP added.

What happens in the SEZ, though, is a matter for Kings Romans security. Zhao’s people controlled law and order in the casino city. The Laotian army has a presence of fewer than 30 soldiers to protect the economic zone, which was to cover an area of 3,000 hectares (11.6 square miles) when first given the go-ahead. In October, the Laos government presented Zhao with a medal for bravery owing to his support for public security and national defence in his casino city.

Kings Romans is physically in Laos but everything else is very much Chinese. Chinese is the first language spoken and China’s yuan is the preferred currency in the enclave where an iced coffee at the small Starbucks franchise costs close to $10.

‘Tip of the spear’: Battling the Golden Triangle’s drug lords | Drugs News | Al Jazeera

No comments: