Laos highway opening completes all-weather Southeast Asia to China land route


The landlocked country of Laos inaugurated a new highway that will allow a north-south land route connecting Southeast Asia and China to operate year-round, the Asian Development Bank said.

The opening of Route 3 Monday fills in the last stretch of road for what is supposed to be an all-weather route that at its full length connects Singapore to Beijing, the bank said in a news release.

The inauguration of the highway, which links China’s Yunnan province with northern Thailand via Laos, was attended by Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao, Laotian Prime Minister Bouasone Bouphavanh, Thai Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej and Asian Development Bank President Haruhiko Kuroda.

The leaders of the six countries sharing the Mekong River _ Laos, China, Vietnam, Myanmar, Cambodia and Thailand _ were in Laos on Monday for a summit meeting of the Greater Mekong Subregion bloc.

At the end of the two-day meeting they agreed on “a comprehensive five-year Plan of Action that aims to spur growth, reduce poverty, promote social development and enhance environmental protection in the subregion,” the Asian Development Bank said.

Measures included a rail link joining Singapore and the southern Chinese city of Kunming.

The bank, a multilateral institution that finances development projects in Asia, said the completion of Route 3 “will create more business opportunities and provide people with easier access to social services.”

“Before construction commenced on the new route, the highway was closed four months each year during the rainy season, limiting communities’ access to basic social services, and impeding trade and employment opportunities in the region,” it said.

Tourism in Thailand, Laos and China will also be boosted, it added.

The bank, as well as the Thai and Chinese governments, each contributed US$30 million (€18.9 million ) for the project, while Laos _ one of the region’s poorest countries _ gave US$7 million (€4.4 million), it said.

The project to modernize the road network from the Thai capital Bangkok to Kunming was under development for more than a decade, the bank said.