Mega dam projects – is China better than Western donors and investors?


Bakun Dam Resettlement

Bakun Dam Resettlement (Photo credit: International Rivers)


China’s rapid development and depleted domestic natural resources has spurred a massive overseas expansion: China is for example the biggest global investor in hydro power projects. Many dams in continental South East Asia are intended to generate electricity for sale to China’s relatively undeveloped South-West. But China is the major global investor in hydro power projects worldwide, and currently involved in the construction of at least 292 dams worldwide.


Researchers in the School of Politics, History and International Relations are launching a ground-breaking investigation of the political ecology of China’s overseas hydro power, in cooperation with colleagues at the University of Nottingham Ningbo campus in China, and in collaboration with researchers in the UK, Ghana and Nigeria.


Over the next three years, the team will analyse the organisation and motives of Chinese hydropower actors, and how this shapes their relations with low and middle-income countries, including Malaysia, where China’s Exim Bank is financing the controversial 2400 MW capacity Bakun Dam in Sarawak. A comparative analysis of the social, economic, environmental and political impacts of Chinese dam projects in Malaysia, Cambodia, Ghana and Nigeria will be carried out. This will lead to an analysis of the local, national and regional level governance implications of China’s rising power. In particular, this research project will question China’s foreign policy commitments to ‘responsible power’ and to ‘harmonious relations’ with partner countries. We will also examine the Corporate Social Responsibility policy and practice of Chinese State Owned Enterprises and other stakeholders, and their commitment to environmental laws and norms. The engagement of civil society organisations in response to China’s dam building will also be explored. Over 36 months, this major research project will identify the national, regional and global consequences of China’s hydro power expansion, particularly with regard to energy markets and to international development coordination efforts.


The project “China goes global: a comparative study of Chinese hydropower dams in Africa and Asia” is financed by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) of the United Kingdom. The consortium is led by the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) in London. The UNMC participants include Dr Christopher Napoli, who will analyse the political economy of hydro power at the South-East Asian and global levels. My own contribution will be the environmental impact assessments and  a mapping of local stakeholders and civil society organisations.




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