The thump of jackhammers and the whine of drills pierce the air, workmen in orange safety hats beaver away and a massive concrete wall rises slowly above the river. Here, in lush northeastern Cambodia, the US$800 million Lower Sesan 2 Dam stands as a potent symbol of China’s growing reach, and Beijing’s ambitious plans to expand its influence across Asia by building desperately needed infrastructure.
Soaring Chinese demand for natural resources is wreaking environmental havoc throughout Southeast Asia. Driven by its internal needs to provide breakneck rates of job creation and economic growth, China’s developmental model has repeatedly abused the fickle regulatory environment of its neighbors to drive its thirst for commodities. It has made it clear that, whoever can provide, it will buy. At the behest of Chinese companies, countries such as Vietnam and Malaysia have rolled out the red carpet, with little regard for their fragile ecosystems.
A deep gorge near Mong Ton Township on the Salween River in Myanmar has long been sought after by engineers from the Electricity Generating Authority of Thailand. It can accommodate Southeast Asia’s tallest dam and deliver the equivalent of 25 per cent of Thailand’s current electricity consumption.
Government authorities in Laos have selected a new company to upgrade a major thoroughfare in the capital Vientiane, after the firm submitted an estimate that was lower than one quoted by a Chinese company believed to have ties to the country’s national leaders.
Critics say the zone has instead become a mecca of gambling, prostitution and illicit trade, raising questions about the spillover effects of China’s growing economic clout beyond its borders.
Amid mounting concerns about environmental issues, a growing number of people in China are starting to take the fight against pollution into their own hands. Non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and volunteer groups focused on environmental protection have been sprouting up around the country over the past few years. Most are engaged in detection efforts and conducting their own research on industrial pollution that is often ignored by the government.
Cizhong, a remote Tibetan village in China’s Yunnan province, has no recourse against the onslaught of impacts from the construction of the Wunonglong dam on the Upper Mekong River.