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Dec. 23 (Bloomberg) -- A Shanghai-based firm has started construction on a $1.6 billion property project in Vientiane, the capital city of Laos, boosting Chinese presence in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations’ smallest economy.

Shanghai Wanfeng Group, the closely held developer of shopping malls in China, reached agreement with the Lao government in December 2011 to develop 365 hectares (900 acres) around That Luang Lake into a commercial, residential and tourist complex. Construction began yesterday, according to the Chinese official news agency Xinhua and the company’s website.

Chinese firms, from dam builders to mall developers are boosting investment in Laos, a new member of the World Trade Organization with an economy that’s forecast by the International Monetary Fund to grow 8.0 percent in 2013.

China CAMC Engineering Co. completed the first phase of a $100 million residential project on a 1.6 kilometer (1 mile) section of the Mekong river waterfront in time to accommodate leaders attending the ninth Asia-Europe Meeting in November. The Yunnan Provincial Overseas Investment Co., a Chinese government investment arm, is developing another property project in the city valued at $40 million.

China’s total investment in Laos is $3.3 billion this year, making China the third-largest foreign investor in the landlocked nation of 6 million people, after Thailand and Vietnam, Xinhua news agency reported citing the Ministry of Trade.

China’s investments in ASEAN have increased 31 percent in the first 11 months of this year, the ministry had said, without providing a detailed breakdown by countries.

To contact the reporter on this story: Xin Zhou in Beijing at

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Paul Tighe at

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