That’s the scenario China envisions for Southeast Asia as part of its Bell and Road Initiative (BRI), a vast overseas infrastructure development programme that launched more than a decade ago.

In 2021, the semi-high-speed Laos-China Railway opened to passengers, connecting the southwestern Chinese commercial hub of Kunming to the Laotian capital of Vientiane - a roughly 10-hour journey, spanning some 1,000 kilometers which officials claim has boosted numbers of overland Chinese travellers while greatly benefitting local vendors and businesses in the tiny land-locked country.

Credits: Getty Images; Author: visualspace;

Offering everything from ancient temples in Laos and pristine beaches in Thailand to lush rainforests and eco-tours in Malaysia, Southeast Asia has long been a big draw for Chinese travellers, experts note.