Contested Mining Resources and their Impact on Livelihoods in Laos PDR


About the Seminar

Since colonial times, the mineral riches of Laos sparked hopes and fantasies of an ‘oriental Klondyke’, reminiscent of the Alaskan gold rush during the turn of the 19th century. Gold and tin, in particular, attracted French explorers and entrepreneurs. By the 1920s, the tin mines of Khammouane had become the first industrial enterprise in the country. At present, Lao mining remains a realm of contestation amongst powerful neighbours. A substantial USD 200 million (approx.) or 20% share of the country’s foreign direct investments is directed towards contested extractive resources and their related infrastructures. China has become a key source of these investments, with Thailand and Vietnam still wielding considerable economic and political influence. Interestingly, large-scale mining enterprises coexist with local artisanal and small-scale mining (ASM) – reminiscent of the early days of industrial mining under colonialism. While the number of (small and large) concessions for foreign investors is increasing due to more liberal investment policies of the Government of Laos, local villagers are struggling for their livelihoods and customary rights to practice ASM.

This seminar critically assesses the role of the state as an intermediary between the plethora of foreign mining companies and the Lao peasant-miner villages. It discusses the consequences of these mining developments for the Lao elites and the poor rural population, and examines how local livelihoods and the environment are affected by the tensions between traditional and modern mining practices and its burgeoning industries led by Chinese, Thai, and Vietnamese stakeholders. It also sheds light on how newly established legal institutions in the foreign-led mining sector are negotiated at the local level.

About the Speaker

Oliver Tappe is Visiting Fellow at the ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute. He is member of the CRISEA research framework (Competing Regional Integrations in Southeast Asia) and is currently working on a project on artisanal and small-scale mining in Laos. His research interests include the history of the Lao-Vietnamese upland frontier and the past and present dynamics of labour migration in Southeast Asia. He is co-editor, with Vatthana Pholsena, of the volume Interactions with a Violent Past: Reading Post-Conflict: Landscapes in Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam (2013) and co-editor of the volume Bonded Labour: Global and Comparative Perspectives, 18th-21st Century (2016; with S. Damir-Geilsdorf, U. Lindner, G. Müller, M. Zeuske).

For registration, please click on this link. Registration closes on 21 February 2020.


Feb 25 2020


10:00 am - 11:30 am


ISEAS Seminar Room 2