From a long BBC article published earlier this week:
A sparsely populated, landlocked country of 7.5 million people, Laos is one of the region's poorest and least developed nations. In a bid to transform the largely agrarian society, the past decade has seen the government take on major infrastructure projects, mostly financed by historic ally and neighbour China
All of this has added to Laos' ballooning debt, which is now ninth highest globally as a share of its GDP, according to the International Monetary Fund. Around half of that is owed to China, and Laos is now having to borrow more from lenders in the country just to stay afloat.
"Laos is so heavily indebted to China that their negotiating position is compromised," he said. "It's having to borrow just to service the debt. That's the definition of a debt trap."
It’s one of several Chinese-run SEZs carved out of the landlocked country’s borderlands, some of which have earned reputations for unchecked criminality. The most infamous is the Golden Triangle SEZ, a self-governing enclave built around the Kings Romans Casino on the banks of the Mekong River in northern Laos, 280 kilometers from Boten.
With the Laotian government unable, or unwilling, to control what occurs inside some of its SEZs, concern is growing about their role in facilitating transnational crimes like money laundering, drug trafficking and online scams.
Boten risks joining a trend across the Mekong region of SEZs metastasizing into hubs of illegal activity. Zones in Cambodia and Myanmar have also become infamous for hosting criminal syndicates, notably online scam groups — part of what experts say is a Chinese-run industry operating across the region, responsible for the theft of billions of dollars worldwide, and sustained by trafficked and abused workers.
The 10,000-hectare SEZ now boasts all the trappings of a small city – taxis, public squares, malls, restaurants and coffee shops set amid high-rise apartment blocks. But beneath this veneer of normalcy, the zone’s criminal core is barely disguised.