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Abstract

This article revisits the conclusions of Dawn Starin’s “Letter from Luang Prabang” published in 2008, in which she questions whether UNESCO’s recognition of the city’s historic center as a heritage site would be positive or negative for the city. She raises serious concerns about the future of Luang Prabang and suggests that UNESCO World Heritage Status would lead to a major upsurge of tourism and potentially, destroy what makes Luang Prabang special. This paper starts from the basis that reducing such a complex issue to a single binary question is misconceived. Moreover, that while UNESCO in Luang Prabang and management of the city’s heritage remain pertinent issues, of far more importance and urgency, is the growing visibility of China in Luang Prabang and concerns about Chinese influence. The paper argues that negotiating this is now the fundamental pressing issue facing Luang Prabang, and that questions of China in Luang Prabang, and Laos generally, are complex, nuanced and contradictory.

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