Geography Reference
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approach that raises questions about long-term social stability, let alone democracy and
In contrast to their multilateral counterparts, Chinese government agencies and corpora-
tions have shown little interest in building state capacity, enhancing civil society, or imple-
menting structural-adjustment programs that seek to reorient the relationship between the
state and the market in the countries where they work. Rather, they tend to focus on quid
pro quo development projects: a dam here in exchange for mineral-resource concessions
there. Africa—which offers both abundant resources and historically weak governmental
institutions—seems particularly vulnerabletothissortofdevelopment, typifiedbyfortified
enclaves of resource extraction that generate capital for global elites while marginalizing
local communities (Ferguson 2006).
in Africa is that such arrangements sidestep structural-adjustment programs, which have
wrought incredibly painful changes in the lives of people around the world who have been
affected by them. The development industry is replete with examples of the tragic con-
sequences of structural adjustment: people who are forced to cope with the devaluation
of their national currency and, by extension, the loss of their savings; workers being
downsized in the name of efficiency; and vulnerable populations failing to receive the ser-
vices they need because of slashed social programs. Given the inhumanity of many of the
policies of international financial institutions such as the World Bank, Chinese firms' quid
pro quo approach may come to look comparatively humane.
The debate about China's role in the financing and construction of dams around the
world is at its core a reframing of the debate between neoclassical and state-led develop-
ment. Aihwa Ong suggests that “neoliberalism can also be conceptualized as a new rela-
tionship between government and knowledge through which governing activities are recast
as nonpolitical and nonideological problems that need technical solutions” (2006:3). As
concepts such as neoliberalism gain academic traction, there is a tendency to apply this lo-
gic to China's recent economic trajectory. However, while the main story lines in this topic
certainly provide evidence for a nonideological, even technocratic, approach to develop-
ment, I am skeptical that the development policies enacted by the CCP can reasonably be
seen as “neoliberal,” which requires a combination of liberal market policies, an eschewing
of central economic planning, and at least a rhetorical emphasis on individual freedom and
liberty (Harvey 2005).
In practice, neoliberal policies are often quite effective at claiming more and more eco-
nomic and political power for elites. The more one learns about the institutional struc-
ture of hydropower in China—with government agencies, state-owned enterprises, joint
ventures, and shareholder corporations such as the Five Energy Giants all playing their
various roles—the more the concept of “social embeddedness” seems to come into play.
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