Inter-area/Border Crossing

Organized Panel Session

2 - A 'Green' Belt and Road? Small Hydropower and Large Dams on China's Southwestern Borderlands

Thursday, March 22
7:30 PM - 9:30 PM
Location: Wilson A, Mezzanine Level

Since the late 1990s, China has been at the forefront of the global resurgence in large dam construction, developing 300 gigawatts of new domestic hydropower. Many of these new dams are in China’s southwest Yunnan province, a mountainous border region at the headwaters of Asia’s major rivers. In the broader sub-region, Chinese financiers are facilitating dam building in upland Laos and Myanmar, efforts that have received a boost through the One Belt, One Road (OBOR) initiative. Yet China is not only building large hydropower; it is also the world leader in small hydropower (SHP), generally defined as plants under 10 megawatts. SHP was long used for rural electrification in China, and is now the country’s most widespread green energy source, with Yunnan its chief supplier. Moreover, China’s leaders promote SHP internationally as a model of green development, part of the government’s attempt to ‘green’ its global image and address environmental concerns associated with OBOR.


In this paper, I investigate how China’s marketing of SHP as a green development model facilitates new forms of hydropower investment in countries along its southwestern border. I specifically examine the technologies, practices, and ideas about green development that are transferred through SHP aid and investment, and the types of projects that are built as a result. Drawing on participant observation in Chinese SHP training programs, interviews with state officials and investors, and analysis of project documents, I show how SHP serves to improve China’s environmental reputation, even as it takes a backseat to large hydropower projects. 

Tyler Harlan

University of California, Los Angeles, California

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2 - A 'Green' Belt and Road? Small Hydropower and Large Dams on China's Southwestern Borderlands



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