Chinese Investor Networks and the Politics of Infrastructure Projects in the Eastern Economic Corridor in Thailand




Actor Network Theory, Chinese Investors, Eastern Economic Corridor, Infrastructure, Thailand


This research examines Chinese investment and the impact of infrastructure projects on the Eastern Economic Corridor project (EEC), a special economic zone linking Thailand with Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Vietnam, and China, which aligns with the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). Drawing on Actor Network Theory (ANT), this study analyzes emerging Chinese investor networks and the resulting negotiations between various actors such as the Thai state, Chinese and Thai investors, and local farmers. Many Chinese investors have moved their production bases to avoid the tax barriers raised by the United States or Europe, as well as to expand their markets in Southeast Asia. The Thai state offers tax benefits to foreign investors, allowing them to import raw materials and machinery from China, making their production costs lower than those of Thai investors. The findings reveal that the neoliberal state facilitates foreign investors through deregulation: enacting city planning laws that permit the establishment of industrial estates in agricultural zones, thus dispossessing farmers of their land. These factories can release toxic waste, thus impacting the local environment and livelihoods of nearby farmers. Thai business-people are often unable to compete with Chinese investors to match their bids. In order to maintain their positions in these economic networks, they build affective relations with Chinese investors. In addition, these affective relations attract resistance and indignation from locals dispossessed of land and resources.

Author Biography

Arratee Ayuttacorn, Chiang Mai University, Thailand

Arratee Ayuttacorn is an Associate Professor in Sociology at the Department of Social Science and Development, Faculty of Social Sciences, Chiang Mai University, Thailand. Her research interests include cultural studies, aviation, gender, resource management, public health, and Indian studies.


Aggarwal, A. (2007). Impact of special economic zones on employment, poverty and human development. Working Paper No. 194.

Bangkok Business News. (2019, April 24). Lakchai Industrial Estate invests 5 billion to build Phase 2.

Bangkok Business News. (2023, July 18). EEC as a destination for Chinese investors, various support factors.

Boeck, F. D. (2011). Inhabiting ocular ground: Kinshasa's future in the light of Congo's spectral urban politics. Cultural Anthropology, 26(2), 263-286.

Bräutigam, D., & Tang, X. (2011). China’s investment in special economic zones in Africa. In T. Farole & G. Akinci (Eds.), Special economic zones: Progress, emerging challenges, and future directions (pp. 69-100). World Bank.

Bräutigam, D., & Tang, X. (2014). “Going global in groups”: Structural transformation and China’s special economic zones overseas. World Development, 63, 78-91.

Callon, M. (1984). Some elements of a sociology of translation: domestication of the scallops and the fishermen of St Brieuc Bay. The Sociological Review, 32(1_suppl), 196-233.

Chettri, M., & Eilenberg, M. (Eds.). (2021). Development zones in Asian borderlands. Amsterdam University Press.

Chheang, V. (2022). Chinese investments and resource frontiers in Cambodia: Systemic transformation. In O. Tappe & S. Rowedder (Eds.), Extracting development: Contested Resource Frontiers in Mainland Southeast Asia (pp. 198-220). ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute.

Daily News. (2023, July 6). Supporting Chinese electric car companies to invest in Thailand, aim to be a center for “EV cars” production.

Dwyer, M. B. (2020). “They will not automatically benefit”: The politics of infrastructure development in Laos's Northern Economic Corridor. Political Geography, 78, 102118.

Eastern Economic Corridor Office. (2018). Action Plan for Infrastructure Development to Support the Eastern Special Development Zone.

Eastern Economic Corridor Office. (2019). PPP EEC Track.

Eastern Economic Corridor Office. (2023). Investment in EEC by countries.

Elo, S., & Kyngäs, H. (2008). The qualitative content analysis process. Journal of Advanced Nursing, 62(1), 107-115.

EnLaw. (2021, October 8). Revealing the impacts of "EEC city planning": destroying the ecosystem and the livelihood of people.

Farole, T., & Akinci, G. (2011). Special economic zones: Progress, emerging challenges, and future directions. World Bank Publications.

Forbes Thailand. (2020, May 14). High speed train 3 airports, new business structure of "CP Group".รถไฟความเร็วสูง-3-สนามบิ.html

Franceschini, I. (2020). As far apart as earth and sky: a survey of Chinese and Cambodian construction workers in Sihanoukville. Critical Asian Studies, 52(4), 512-529.

Franceschini, I., & Loubere, N. (2022). Global China as method. Cambridge University Press.

Harvey, D. (2005). A brief history of neoliberalism. Oxford University Press.

Harvey, P., & Knox, H. (2012). The enchantments of infrastructure. Mobilities, 7(4), 521-536.

Harvey, P., & Knox, H. (2015). Roads: An anthropology of infrastructure and expertise. Cornell University Press.

ILaw (2019, August 11). "EEC" "Special Economic Zone" for whom?

Knox, H. (2017). Affective infrastructures and the political imagination. Public Culture, 29(2), 363-384.

Larkin, B. (2013). The politics and poetics of infrastructure. Annual Review of Anthropology, 42(1), 327-343.

Latour, B. (2007). Reassembling the social: An introduction to actor-network-theory. Oxford University Press.

Laungaramsri, P. (2015). Commodifying sovereignty: Special economic zones and the neoliberalization of the Lao frontier. In Y. Santasombat (Ed.), Impact of China’s rise on the Mekong Region (pp. 117-146). Palgrave Macmillan.

Law, J. (1990). Introduction: monsters, machines and sociotechnical relations. The Sociological Review, 38(1_suppl), 1-23.

Law, J. (1992). Notes on the theory of the actor-network: Ordering, strategy, and heterogeneity. Systems Practice, 5(4), 379-393.

Lee, C. K. (2017). The specter of global China: Politics, labor, and foreign investment in Africa. University of Chicago Press.

Levien, M. (2011). Special economic zones and accumulation by dispossession in India. Journal of Agrarian Change, 11(4), 454-483.

Levien, M. (2018). Dispossession without development: Land grabs in neoliberal India. Oxford University Press.

Lin, S., Shimazu, N., & Sidaway, J. D. (2021). Theorising from the belt and road initiative (一带一路). Asia Pacific Viewpoint, 62(3), 261-269.

Lyttleton, C., & Li, Y. (2017). Rubber’s affective economies: Seeding a social landscape in Northwest Laos. In V. Bouté & V. Pholsena (Eds.), Changing lives in Laos: Society, politics and culture in a post-socialist state (pp. 301-324). NUS Press.

Manager Online. (2019, January 29). Pho villagers, Chachoengsao province, put up the signs opposing the EEC inland port project.

Manager Online. (2021, September 11). Extending 5 year for importing "plastic scraps" pushing Thailand into the land of the world's trash.

Manager Online. (2022, May 26). It's a matter! Cement-rubber roads began to have smell. Ministry of Interior orders all local administrative organizations to stop using the saving money to launch One village One kilometer project.

Manager Online. (2023, April 9). GAC AION, a Chinese electric vehicle manufacturer, submits a letter to the EEC board for producing EV vehicles in Thailand, with an investment value of 6,400 million baht.

Matichon Online. (2018, August 26). “Somkid-Uttama" takes a tour to two EEC provinces, China is interested in a train linking three airports.

Matichon Weekly. (2019, April 29). Analysis Chapter: China and the import ban of Recycled plastic waste.

Matichon Weekly. (2021, January 6). Analysis: "Toxic waste factory in Thailand." What did the foreign media report for criticism?

Moberg, L. (2015). The political economy of special economic zones. Journal of institutional economics, 11(1), 167-190.

Nyíri, P. (2012). Enclaves of improvement: Sovereignty and developmentalism in the special zones of the China-Lao borderlands. Comparative Studies in Society and History, 54(3), 533-562.

Positioning. (2019, May 7). Just MG cars are not enough for "CP", announcing a joint venture with Foton Motor Group, hoping to be the top three of the Thai automobile market.

PPTV (2023, May 31). Thai durian is scared? China imports more Vietnamese durian.ต่างประเทศ/197649

Prachachat Thurakit. (2020, August 7). Uncover blueprint for EEC city plan for 8 million rai, reducing agricultural area.

Rowedder, S. (2022). 'Only the best fruits for China!' Local productions of a ‘fruit frontier’ in the borderlands of China, Laos and Thailand. In O. Tappe & S. Rowedder. (Eds.), Extracting development: Contested resource frontiers in Mainland Southeast Asia (pp. 79-105). ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute.

Rowedder, S., & Tappe, O. (2022). Contested resource frontiers in mainland Southeast Asia: An introduction. In O. Tappe & S. Rowedder (Eds.), Extracting development: Contested resource frontiers in Mainland Southeast Asia (pp. 1-27). ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute.

Ruamsuwan, A. (2021, June 10). Great Wall Motor officially opens second factory in Thailand. Thai Rath Online.

Ruming, K. (2009). Following the actors: Mobilising an actor-network theory methodology in geography. Australian Geographer, 40(4), 451-469.

Salika. (2023, Apr 21). Looking at the three giant Chinese "EV" companies, located in EEC to produce electric cars for the world market.

SCB Economic Intelligence Center (2022). CLMV Outlook 2022.

Seub Nagasathien Foundation. (2023, February 28). Cabinet approves policy to regulate imports of plastic waste.

Siamrath Online (2021, January 24) More than 300 villagers oppose the construction of plastic recycling plant at Bo Thong.

Sidaway, J. D., Rowedder, S. C., Woon, C. Y., Lin, W., & Pholsena, V. (2020). Introduction: Research agendas raised by the Belt and Road Initiative. Environment and Planning C: Politics and Space, 38(5), 795-802.

Siriphon, A. (2019). Developing entrepreneurship under the rise of China: Chinese migrant entrepreneurs in tourism-related businesses in Chiang Mai. In Y. Santasombat (Ed.), The sociology of Chinese capitalism in Southeast Asia: Challenges and prospects (pp. 271-289). Palgrave Macmillan.

Siriphon, A., & Li, J. (2022). Transnationalizing intrapreneurs and entrepreneurial values: Case studies of Chinese companies in Chiang Mai, Thailand. TRaNS: Trans-Regional and-National Studies of Southeast Asia, 10(1), 103-114.

Soukhaphon, A., Baird, I. G., & Hogan, Z. S. (2021). The impacts of hydropower dams in the Mekong River Basin: A review. Water, 13(3), 265.

Sternberg, T., Ahearn, A., & McConnell, F. (2017). Central Asian ‘characteristics’ on China’s new Silk Road: The role of landscape and the politics of infrastructure. Land, 6(3), 55.

Summers, T. (2016). China’s ‘New Silk Roads’: Sub-national regions and networks of global political economy. Third World Quarterly, 37(9), 1628-1643.

Sung, H. C. (2019). Chinese capitalism and the development of the ASEAN Economic Community: De-securitization perspectives. In Y. Santasombat (Ed.), Chinese capitalism in Southeast Asia (pp. 27-54). Biodiversity and Indigenous Knowledge Study Center for Sustainable Development and the Center for China-Southeast Asia Studies. Chiang Mai University. Wanida Press.

Tappe, O. (2022). Frontier capitalism in colonial and contemporary Laos: The case of tin mining. In O. Tappe & S. Rowedder (Eds.), Extracting development: contested resource frontiers in Mainland Southeast Asia (pp. 172-196). ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute.

Thai PBS. (2020, August 11). China closes the country – forces the factories to move the base to Thailand with garbage.

Thairat Online. (2021, June 2). Durian of Chanthaburi has exceeded the export target over 40 billion, while the rambutan has gradually entered the market.

Than-Settakij. (2020, February 6). Chinese capital ignores Corona virus, Guangxi establishes Rayong Industrial Estate.

Than-Settakij. (2021, May 7). Thailand fights Indonesia for the center of EV battery production in ASEAN.

The Straits Times. (2019, September 7) Made-in-China durians: Thailand’s trade office warns of future competition.

Wang, J. (2013). The economic impact of special economic zones: Evidence from Chinese municipalities. Journal of Development Economics, 101, 133-147.

Zang, J. (2021, March 18). Chinese Companies Set Sights on Laos for Durian Production. Produce Report.