On the Tatay River, up a sweeping jungle valley in a remote corner of Cambodia, Chinese engineers and workers are raising a 100-meter- (330-foot-) high dam over the protests of villagers and activists. Only Chinese companies are willing to tame the Tatay and other rivers of Koh Kong province, one of Southeast Asia’s last great wilderness areas.
It’s a scenario that is hardly unique. China‘s giant state enterprises and banks have completed, are working on or are proposing some 300 dams from Algeria to Myanmar.
You go to China if you want to have them financed
Poor countries contend the dams are crucial to bringing electricity to tens of millions who live without it and boosting living standards. Environmental activists and other opponents counter that China, the world’s No. 1 dam builder, is willing and able to go where most Western companies, the World Bank and others won’t tread anymore because of environmental, social, political or financial concerns. “China is the one financier able to give money for projects that don’t meet international standards,” said Ian Baird, an assistant professor of geography at the University of Wisconsin who has worked in Southeast Asia for decades. “You go to China if you want to have them financed.”
A new era of ill-conceived, destructive mega-dams
The result, critics say, is a rollback to an era of ill-conceived, destructive mega-dams that many thought had passed. The most recent trend is to dam entire rivers with a cascade of barriers, as China’s state-owned Sinohydro has proposed on Colombia’s Magdalene River and the Nam Ou in Laos, where contracts for seven dams have been signed. Viewed by some in the developing world as essential icons of progress, dams in countries as far apart as Ecuador, Myanmar and Zambia have spearheaded or reinforced China’s rising economic might around the world. They are tied to or put up in tandem with other infrastructure projects and businesses, and power generation equipment ranks as China’s second-largest export earner after electrical machinery and equipment. In energy-starved Cambodia, trade with China has risen to 19 percent of GDP from 10 percent five years ago, according to an Associated Press analysis of International Monetary Fund data.
Kamchay Dam – A symbol for close Chinese-Khmer ties
The year-old $280 million Kamchay Dam in Cambodia’s Kampot province was the largest ever foreign investment when approved as well as a political flag-carrier for Beijing. It has been hailed by both governments as a “symbol of close Chinese-Cambodian ties.” Cambodia’s electricity demand grew more than 16 percent a year from 2002 to 2011, with shortfalls largely met through costly oil imports, said Bun Narith, a deputy director general in the Ministry of Industry, Mines and Energy. Only 14 percent of rural homes has electricity, one of the lowest levels in Southeast Asia.
Electricity is also a basic human need
“We have no choice,” Bun Narith said. “Hydro-power is the priority, and the Chinese have the initiative and capability, both financial and technical.” The 20 hydro dams built, being constructed or under study in Cambodia, the bulk of them by the Chinese, would lift Cambodia out of literal darkness and make it energy self-sufficient, he said. “We should have a win-win policy, a balance between environment and energy. After all, electricity is also a basic human need.”Source: Miami Herald “China is top dam builder, going where others won’t”
- Cambodia: Chinese-made Dam collapsed. (alfredmeier.me)
- Government Defends Chinese Dams (cambodiadaily.com)
- Iran cancels $2 billion dam deal with China (chinadailymail.com)