'Learning It the Hard Way': Social Safeguard Norms in Chinese-Led Dam Projects in Myanmar, Laos and Cambodia

Kirchherr, J., Matthews, N., Charles, K.J. and Walton, M.J. (2017). "Learning it the Hard Way": Social safeguards norms in Chinese-led dam projects in Myanmar, Laos and Cambodia. Energy Policy, 102: 529-539

38 Pages Posted: 21 Apr 2017 Last revised: 23 Apr 2017

See all articles by Julian Kirchherr

Julian Kirchherr

Utrecht University - Copernicus Institute of Sustainable Development

Nathanial Matthews

University of London - Department of Geography

Katrina Charles

University of Oxford - School of Geography and Environment

Matthew Walton

University of Oxford - Saint Antony’s College

Date Written: January 7, 2017

Abstract

Chinese dam developers claim to construct at least every second dam worldwide. However, scholarly literature comprehensively investigating the social safeguard norms in these projects is rare. This paper analyses social safeguard norms in Chinese-led dam projects in Myanmar, Laos and Cambodia, hotspots of Chinese-led dam construction. We find that social safeguard norms adopted have significantly changed in the past 15 years. While Chinese dam developers claimed to adopt standards of the host countries upon the launch of China's Going Out Policy in 2001, with occasional adoption of more demanding Chinese standards, they did not adopt international norms. In recent years, however, they increasingly take into account international norms. We argue that the root cause for this change is social mobilization, with the suspension of the Myitsone Dam in 2011 as a particular game changer. Enhanced social safeguard legislation in host countries and China, stricter rules of Chinese funders and cooperation of Chinese dam developers with international players have also facilitated this change.

Keywords: Myanmar; Laos; Cambodia; Chinese dam developers; Large dams; Social safeguards

Suggested Citation

Kirchherr, Julian and Matthews, Nathanial and Charles, Katrina and Walton, Matthew, 'Learning It the Hard Way': Social Safeguard Norms in Chinese-Led Dam Projects in Myanmar, Laos and Cambodia (January 7, 2017). Kirchherr, J., Matthews, N., Charles, K.J. and Walton, M.J. (2017). "Learning it the Hard Way": Social safeguards norms in Chinese-led dam projects in Myanmar, Laos and Cambodia. Energy Policy, 102: 529-539. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2956647

Julian Kirchherr (Contact Author)

Utrecht University - Copernicus Institute of Sustainable Development ( email )

Heidelberglann 2
3508 TC Utrecht
Netherlands

Nathanial Matthews

University of London - Department of Geography ( email )

Room K4.10, Fourth Floor Strand Campus
London, WC2R 2LS
United Kingdom

Katrina Charles

University of Oxford - School of Geography and Environment ( email )

Oxford University Centre for the Environment
South Parks Road
Oxford, OX1 3QY
United Kingdom

Matthew Walton

University of Oxford - Saint Antony’s College ( email )

Oxford
United Kingdom

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