“Hope that the Chinese company will continue to drive local economy by achieving common development with local people,” Bounnhang Vorachith, general secretary of the Lao People’s Revolutionary Party Central Committee and President of Laos, said when he inspected a Chinese company in central Laos earlier this month.

The President inspected the Sun Paper Holdings Laos Co., Ltd. (Sun Paper Laos), located in Xepon, Savannakhet Province in central Laos, on March 10.

Sun Paper Laos, the first modern pulp mill in Laos established in 2008, is a wholly-owned company of Shandong Sun Paper Group, one of China’s top 500 enterprises. Sun Paper Group signed an investment agreement on “Forest-Pulp-Paper Integration” with the Lao Government in 2009.

After a decade’s development, the company’s investment in Laos has reached 500 million U.S. dollars, and has planted 32,000 hectares of pulp forest and 6,450 hectares of cooperative forest in the country.

It has established the hardwood pulp production line with an annual production of 300,000 tons in 2017, which was formally put into use in 2018.

Vongxay Xayachack, governor of Xepon County, spoke highly of the role played by Sun Paper Laos, as the company has created a large number of jobs and promoted local socio-economic development.

Phone Hankhamvong, a 60-year-old villager from Xepon County, has been working as a technician at Sun Paper Laos for two years, leading local people to plant cooperative forests.

“At the beginning, we didn’t have a sense of rules and it was difficult for us to adapt to work. Now the company has established a comprehensive and systematic working procedure, which has further streamlined the work of employees,” said Phone.

“The modern management is a new thing in the mountains of Laos. We knew nothing about the concept of ‘factory’ before. Now we understood it,” said the technician.

“I think this job has benefited me and society a lot. In the past, it was just a deserted woodland. After the road was neatly trimmed, it is more like a town,” said Phone, who now supported his two children to go to school.

“This company can train young people to be more disciplined. I have one son who works as a driver here, and I hope that other two children will come to work at the Sun Paper Laos after they graduate,” Phone added.

The Chinese enterprise, which made investment in Laos under the Belt and Road Initiative, has been playing an important role in improving people’s livelihood and reducing poverty in Laos.

“The Sun Paper Laos has hired local people of 310,000 person-times, and is employing 458 Lao nationals in the company now. Besides, the company has actively engaged in charitable activities, and spent a total of 1.86 million U.S. dollars repairing bridges, roads and building schools for the nearby villages,” said Li Hongxin, president of Shandong Sun Paper Group.

Tieng Xayyasith, 25, whose hometown was in the northern Lao province of Luang Namtha thousands of miles away from the factory, has a Chinese name Aming.

His parents passed away when he was very young. Aming and his brother were brought up by his two elder sisters. He graduated from high school and obtained a government scholarship to study in Sichuan province in China. In 2017, he started to work as a warehouse manager in Sun Paper Laos.

Aming’s monthly salary of 477 U.S. dollars was a relatively high income in the local area. He sends a large amount of his salary to his wife and children in Luang Namtha.

Aming said his wife used to work in the factory. If there would be a chance, she would come back to work, and then he would buy a house outside the factory and settle down.

“I am grateful and satisfied with the benefits the company has offered us, both in life and at work,” he said.

Khamphouvong Soukkaserm, 25, from the remote Luang Prabang town in northern Laos, is the factory’s security chief.

“My hometown is very poor. Only rice is grown. There is no other job, and the harvest is only enough for our needs,” said Khamphouvong.

Khamphouvong had studied Chinese in China’s Yunnan Province. Now he earns about 600 U.S. dollars a month and sends half of it to his family.

“Sun Paper Laos is kind to local people, provides us with many job opportunities and tries to lead us out of poverty. If I earn enough money, I will buy land and build a house here,” said Khamphouvong.

Li, president of Shandong Sun Paper Group, said he regarded Laos as the “second hometown,” adding he will continue helping Lao people reduce poverty and become prosperous.

Sun Paper Laos planned to further invest 636 million U.S. dollars in two years to establish a high-level packaging board production line with an annual production of 800,000 tons and a recycled fibre pulp board production line with an annual production of 400,000 tons.

It also planned to invest 1 billion U.S. dollars to conduct the project of “Forest-Pulp-Paper Integration” in Attapeu in southern Laos and Borikhamxay in central Laos.

The company said it will further carry out the cooperation mode of providing seedlings, fertilizers, and technical services to farmers and buying back their harvests at protective prices.

It will continue to employ local people, cooperate with local universities and colleges to cultivate talents, and provide employees with professional technical training, the company said.