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In the Shadow of Spectacular Chinatown: Realigning Socialist Wetland with Capitals in Vientiane, Laos

This project examines the recent urbanization history of That Luang Marsh, Vientiane's largest urban wetland lying by the eastern fringe of the city. By tracing the marsh's changing capacity to resist speculative real estate capital before and after the launch of the first high profile property development project (Chinatown) at its heartland in 2012, I highlight the agency of water in shaping capitalist accumulation processes. I argue that prior to the arrival of Chinatown, irrigation water channeled into the marsh by socialist Lao state's pro-agriculture agenda walled the marsh off from sporadic neoliberal interests. Yet major land reclamation happened through Chinatown's development re-engineered the flow and distribution of water in the marsh, creating a waterscape that is prone to speculative land seizures. Moreover, by dissecting how the new town development project is framed as a 'Chinatown' in political mobilizations against the enclosure of the marsh, the project unpacks the discursive production of 'Chinese neo-coloniality' in Lao context, and the capital accumulations enabled through such rhetoric.