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Laos will offer honorary citizenships to foreign nationals who invest nearly $1.5 million in the Southeast Asian country, a move that many locals and critics fear will result in a massive land grab by Chinese investors, Radio Free Asia reported Wednesday.

Under the new decree, applicants can become honorary citizens provided they donate $500,000 to the country’s socio-economic development and invest $1 million before applying.

Honorary citizens may live in Laos permanently, as well as lease public and private land.

Officials said the initiative aims to bring more skilled foreigners to help the nation develop. They added that the program is “open to all foreigners who have the money to invest,” while also stressing that honorary citizens cannot own the land.

However, critics raised concerns that the program will attract multitudes of Chinese investors, who will snap up land and leave locals with fewer places to live and less access to natural resources.

China is Laos’ second-biggest trading partner after Thailand and is the country’s greatest donor of aid as well as investment.

In recent years, Laotian complaints about Chinese business practices in the country have grown, mainly focusing on Chinese casinos and special economic zones linked to human trafficking and crime, as well as the mistreatment of Laotian workers by their Chinese employers.

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