Geography Reference
In-Depth Information
ticular projects and block others orto provide tax incentives to projects that further national
economic goals.
In the case of Yunnan's rivers, hydropower production is not geared toward local consump-
ing hub, a fact that presents some unique political and geographical challenges. Although
China's coastal regions have inherent geographical advantages in their position and even
their historical links to the global economy, their rise to become the focal point of the mod-
ern Chinese economy was not inevitable; it was driven by explicit policy choices. Begin-
ning in the late 1970s, as China began to engage with the global economy after decades of
self-reliance under the socialist system, one of Deng Xiaoping and his political allies' first
priorities was to establish Special Economic Zones along the east coast that would serve
as manufacturing centers, magnets for foreign direct investment, and the cornerstones of a
new, outward-looking economic model driven by exports. The most dramatic example of
the effects of global capital on eastern China is the city of Shenzhen. In 1978, before its
designation as a Special Economic Zone, Shenzhen was a medium-size city with a popula-
tion of about 300,000 and an economy centered on fishing and agriculture. Today, its pop-
ulation, drawn from all corners of China and the world, numbers nearly 5 million, and its
bustling economy is driven by manufacturing, investment banking, and international trade.
But the hydropower resources needed to fuel this industrial boom are not located in the
floodplains and river deltas of the east; Shenzhen's factories and many thousands like them
are fueled in part by the electricity generated on Yunnan's rivers, more than 1,500 kilomet-
ers to the west. Indeed, most of the nation's great rivers—the Yellow, the Yangtze, and the
Mekong, among others—have their headwaters in the vast, arid interior regions of western
China, far from the coast. These interior regions, moreover, have been largely left behind
in the rush to develop coastal areas. In the “one country with four worlds” model, they rep-
resent the fourth world: vast regions of poverty in which people make a living principally
by farming, wage labor ( dagong ), or out-migration. The central government has long re-
cognized the social and political risks of such inequality and has begun taking steps toward
addressing it with the “Great Western Opening” (Xibu Da Kaifa) campaign, which funnels
investment into the western regions. Begun in the late 1990s, the campaign has become a
major strategy for economic development in the West by harnessing the region's abundant
natural resources, including oil, natural gas, minerals, and water resources (Lai 2002). 19
Dams figure prominently in this overall strategy. They represent the convergence of
central policy with topographical and geographical features that make the west most suit-
able for hydropower development. Whereas most of the dams in China have historically
Search WWH ::

Custom Search