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Lao authorities on the country’s border with China this week pushed back around 200 Chinese attempting to enter Laos with permits, following the opening of a major crossing point for documented travelers on Nov. 1, sources said.

The Chinese had arrived without papers showing they had been tested for coronavirus and quarantined for 14 days in China before entering Laos, a member of Luang Namtha province’s Task Force for COVID-19 Prevention and Control told RFA on Nov. 3.

“Without these papers, it’s not possible for them to enter Laos,” the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity. “In this case, they didn’t have anything, and nobody would allow them to come in,” he said.

On Nov. 1, Laos launched a fast-track entry policy for travelers from China, relaxing controls on the Boten Gate, a northern border crossing previously tightly shut to prevent the spread of COVID-19, under relaxed quarantine policies that some ordinary Lao citizens expressed concern about.

The Luang Namtha official said he did not speak with the Chinese trying to enter Laos, but thought they may have been trying to come in as tourists or to find work, adding he did not know how the group had successfully passed border controls on the Chinese side.

Under new rules allowing entry to Laos, Chinese nationals must apply for a visa through the Chinese consulate or the Lao Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Proof of registration at a hotel or other residence in Laos must then be shown, and travelers must have been quarantined for 14 days in China or after their arrival in Laos.

Reached for comment, an official at the Boten International Border Checkpoint declined to speak about the attempted entry and the group’s forced return to China, and a police officer in Boten said his station had not yet received a report on the matter from border authorities.

An employee answering the phone at the Chinese Embassy in the Lao capital Vientiane also said they had not received a report about the case.

“If the Chinese sneak in without permission, of course we would worry,” one Luang Namtha resident told RFA. “We won’t be concerned, though, if they come in through proper channels and have already been quarantined and tested.”

A guesthouse operator in Luang Namtha also voiced concerns, saying, “We’re scared of COVID-19, and we won’t accept Chinese guests. Many of them have come to our hotel and wanted to quarantine here for 14 days, but we rejected their requests. We don’t care how much they’ll pay.”

Before restrictions on border were eased, at least two groups of Chinese nationals entered Laos illegally, with one group of 34 arrested and deported after coming across a lightly guarded crossing point in Phongsaley province on July 20, sources said in earlier reports.

And on the first of the same month, authorities in Bokeo province detained a group of 19 Chinese migrants and handed them over to border authorities on the Chinese side.

Laos, with ambitions to become the “Battery of Southeast Asia,” has drawn billions of dollars in Chinese investment in hydropower dams and other big-ticket projects under Beijing’s $1.3 trillion Belt and Road Initiative to build infrastructure and support trade.

China is Laos’ largest foreign investor and aid provider, and its second-largest trade partner after Thailand.

In January, Lao state media quoted the country’s Tourism Marketing Department as saying 1.02 million Chinese tourists visited Laos in 2019, a year-on-year increase of 27 percent.

Reported by RFA’s Lao Service. Translated by Max Avary. Written in English by Richard Finney.