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Research Seminar: The worst SEZ in the world: cryptocurrencies, human trafficking and extractivism in the Golden Triangle Special Economic Zone | Dr. Kearrin Sims | Griffith University Griffith Asia Institute

Wednesday, 17 May 2023




N72_-1.18 Nathan Campus (170 Kessels Road, Nathan, 4111 Australia)

Presented by Dr. Kearrin Sims, Senior Lecturer of Development Studies at the James Cook University.

In 2022, northern Laos’ Golden Triangle Special Economic Zone (GTSEZ) made headlines for its links to human trafficking and cryptocurrency cyber-scamming. According to some reports, thousands of victims from more than 20 countries have been trafficked into the zone. A place of violent criminality since its very beginnings, GTSEZ has faced enduring scrutiny within international media – being described by one analyst as ‘the worst SEZ in the world.’ Yet, in spite of such criticisms, GTSEZ has continued to receive the approval of the government of Laos, who recently awarded the zone’s Chairman, Zhao Wei, a Medal of Bravery for his contributions to national defence and public security.

In seeking to better understand why the Lao government has demonstrated such support for GTSEZ, this paper examines the interlinkages between the zone and key national (and transnational) development priorities. Tracing connections between GTSEZ’s crypto-economies and other leading economic sectors, the paper argues that criminality is becoming an increasingly pervasive feature of Laos’ development geographies. Rather than being an anomaly within the country’s development landscape, Sims argues that GTSEZ’s crypto-economies represent a specific manifestation of the Lao government’s longstanding extractivist logics of development, within which human rights abuses and acts of criminality are tolerated and commonplace.

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