Anti-China sentiments have been sparked against a Shanghai-based company Wang Feng Shanghai Real Estate Co over the construction of a 100 metres statue of Buddha costing USD 5 billion close to the Special Economic Zones (SEZ) on the bank of river Mekong in Vientiane.
Scores of people expressed anger on social media accusing the company of stepping on Laotian Buddhist sentiments by designing it in a Mahayana fashion contrary to the Theravada school of Buddhism followed in Laos who depict Buddha sitting cross-legged, according to multiple news reports.
The statue will be the tallest structure in the low rise building area and its location is close to Phathut Luang, a gold plated Buddhist stupa standing as a symbol of Laotian sovereignty.
"People disagree with this symbol of China and are expressing anger on Facebook," a Laotian political observer told Japanese financial newspaper Nikkei Asia on condition of anonymity.
"They are accusing the Chinese of stepping on Laotian Buddhism."
Adisorn Semyaem, director of the Mekong Studies Center at the Bangkok-based Chulalongkorn University, said, "It would be unacceptable that a large statue was built in the That Muang Marsh SEZ to attract tourism not far from Pha That Luang stupa, a symbol of Lao sovereignty."
“Laos has a nationalistic [trait] not different from Cambodia or Thailand, which is evident in the style of Buddha statues — the construction of statues to be enshrined in the temples requires that the Lao style, also known as Lan Xang style, [is followed]," he said.
In 2020, a Chinese company was forced to take down red lanterns it hung on utility poles it built at Vientiane following angry protests on social media.
In another such incident, a Chinese company running the Lao Kalem gold mining project in Laos on a 15-year concession since 2020 is releasing hazardous waste into rivers in Sekong Province (South Laos) killing fish and polluting water used by locals.
Villagers have demanded the project developer and authority return the river to its normal condition. Following protests and official action, the company is completing a wastewater project including a new reservoir and dumpsite, the company is also bringing drinking water to the village through pipes. (ANI)