IN THE NEWS: China winning new Cold War on the Mekong

By Bertil Lintner [Asia Times, 24 June 2019]

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When the state tabloid China Daily ran a paid advertisement in the New York Times extolling the virtues of Beijing’s proliferating dams in Laos, the piece sparked a new cold war controversy.

Entitled “Employment on hydroelectric project in Laos delivers better lives”, the piece stated that a proposed cascade of dams on the Nam Ou River will enable well-paid local workers to buy pickup trucks and provide the poor country with badly needed electricity.

The paid placement also noted the Nam Ou cascade “is a key part of the China-led Belt and Road Initiative and is the first project undertaken by a Chinese-invested company to cover an entire river.”

With its rising regional clout and massive state resources, China has recently gained a clear upper hand vis-à-vis the United States and Japan in determining the crucial waterway’s future development and direction.

It’s an economics-over-environment vision that downstream nations have often opposed but without recourse or resources to fight back there is little they can do as US and Japan-backed counter-initiatives for the river wash away into irrelevance.

A cargo boat on the Mekong River near the Pak Ou tributary, Luang Prabang, Laos, February 1, 2017. Photo: Wikimedia/Christian Terrissen

The new cold war on the Mekong is being fought in part on environmental grounds. International Rivers, a nongovernmental organization (NGO), views China’s dam-building differently than as portrayed in the New York Times’ paid advertisement.

The group states on its website that the propaganda piece “paints a rosy picture of a highly destructive set of dams currently under construction in Southeast Asia.”

Rather than benefiting economically from the construction of new dams, International Rivers claims that farmers affected by the project have lost their land and that many never received the compensation they were promised.

The cascade has resulted in the forced relocation of over 4,000 people and undermined livelihoods for tens of thousands more villages in the river’s basin, the NGO says.

It also claims the company, China Power, is developing 350 kilometers of the 450-kilometer-long river and has “rejected offers from the International Finance Corporation and the Mekong River Commission (MRC) to participate in a broader watershed management planning.”

That is hardly surprising. In recent years, China has managed to outmaneuver the MRC, a decades-old initiative which brings together Mekong River countries for development projects, with the creation of its own Lancang-Mekong Cooperation (LMC).

Lancang is the Chinese name for the Mekong River and the forum, which includes all the riparian countries from the river’s headwaters to its exit in the South China Sea, explicitly excludes traditional regional donors like Japan and the UnitStates.

According to Carl Middleton and Jeremy Allouche, two Western scholars writing for the Italian journal the International Spectator, the LMC “proposes programs on both economic and water resource development, and anticipates hydro-diplomacy via China’s dam-engineered control of the headwaters” of the Mekong.

Read more at this link here.

UPCOMING INTERNATIONAL CONFERENCE: "XVIIth Global Conference of the International Association for the Study of the Commons" [Lima, 1-4 July 2019]

The XVII Biennial IASC Conference, entitled ‘In Defense of the Commons: Challenges, Innovation, and Action’ will be held at the Catholic University of Lima, Peru on July 1-4, 2019. For more details about the conference, please visit this link.

Panel 3B - Hybrid governance of transboundary environmental commons in Southeast Asia

10:30 - 12.00, July 2, Pontificia Universidad Catolica del Peru

Chair: David Taylor

  • Marcel Bandur (National University of Singapore): Hybrid Governance of Transboundary Forest Commons in the Rohingya Crisis

  • David Taylor (National University of Singapore): SR15, NET and the possible implications for biomass governance at low latitudes

  • Rini Astuti (National University of Singapore): Assembling Commercial ForestPeatland Commons in Indonesia

  • Carl Middleton (Chulalongkorn University): The Lancang-Mekong River as a transboundary hybrid commons: Competing collective actions and ethical principles

For more details on Carl's presentation, please take a look at the abstract here.


UPCOMING INTERNATIONAL CONFERENCE: "Political Ecology in Asia: Plural Knowledge and Contested Development in a More-Than-Human World" [Bangkok, 10-11 October 2019]

Thursday-Friday, 10-11 October 2019, Faculty of Political Science, Chulalongkorn University, Bangkok, Thailand

Co-organized by Center for Social Development Studies (CSDS); Research Institute on Contemporary Southeast Asia (IRASEC); French Research Institute for Sustainable Development (IRD); French Institute of Pondicherry (IFP); IRN-SustainAsia; POLLEN Political Ecology Network

Panel topics include:

  • Resource politics and the public sphere;

  • Hydrosocial rivers and their politics;

  • Post-development and systemic alternatives from Asia;

  • Ontologies of infrastructure;

  • Industrialization and ecological justice;

  • Particulate matters: the emergence of a political ecology of haze in Asia;

  • Asia’s urban political ecologies;

  • Human Rights and the Environment in Asia;

  • People and the biodiversity crisis: reshaping governance and justice in conservation?;

  • Representations of nature and political engagements;

  • Interspecies cohabitations in Asia: non-human animals and political ecology.

There are a limited number of spaces remaining for self-funded participants to join the conference either as a paper presenter or participant. For further information, please contact

For the most updated information, you can also visit the conference’s landing page here.

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By Jeremy Allouche [STEPS Centre, 10 April 2019]


A few months ago, I presented the findings of a new book, The Water-Food-Energy Nexus: Power, Politics and Justice, to an International Water Association conference on the same topic at Salerno. To my great surprise, I was the only social scientist out of 200 participants.

Nexus approaches help to bridge the separate domains of water, energy and food to highlight the links and interactions between them. For example, hydroelectric dams are obviously sources of energy, but they need (and use) water for it, with knock-on effects for food – changing the conditions for irrigation, fishing or groundwater – in the areas where they operate. So, anyone responsible for large projects, including in developing countries, can use the Nexus to make decisions and think through what problems or synergies they might create.

So for many engineers and environmental economists, who made up most of the audience, the Nexus is an exciting new idea. It presents them with the practical challenge of modelling ever more complexity and interactions between the resources they work with. In fact, the Nexus is becoming so engineering-dominated that our new book is sold on Amazon under the topic of civil engineering!

Read more at this link here.

Jeremy Allouche, Dipak Gyawali, and Carl Middleton of CSDS are the co-authors of the book “The Water-Food-Energy Nexus”. More information about this book can be read here.

UPCOMING EVENT: CU Graduate Student Seminar Series 'The Water-Food-Energy Nexus' [Bangkok, 21 May 2019]

Tuesday 21 May 2019, 13.00 - 16.00 at Alumni Meeting Room, 12th Floor, Kasem Utthayanin Building (อาคารเกษม อุทยานิน), Faculty of Political Science, Chulalongkorn University, Bangkok, Thailand (guide to the venue here)

Our inaugural interdisciplinary seminar will highlight ongoing graduate student research related to the water-food-energy nexus. Students will present cross-cutting research in the areas of political ecology of water, bioenergy, agriculture, and the politics of water allocation in Southeast Asia. Join your fellow graduate students for an engaging exchange of ideas in a relaxed atmosphere!


  • "A political ecology of Bangkok waters: the institutional interplay between subsidence, floods and water infrastructures" by Thanawat Bremard, ABIES, AgroParisTech, France

  • "Alternative approaches toward agriculture and energy nexus thinking: historical, geographical and political processes of socio-‘techno’-nature interactions" by Hiromi Inagaki, Department of Geography, National University of Singapore

  • "The politics of water policy making process in Indonesia" by Tanaporn Nithiprit, Faculty of Political Science, Chulalongkorn University

  • "Industrialization and water quality in Rayong Province, Thailand: are international, national and local water management strategies complimentary or contesting?" by Wipawadee Panyangnoi, GRID Program, Chulalongkorn University


  • Dipak Gyawali, Nepal Academy of Science and Technology

  • Dr. Takeshi Ito, Graduate Program in Global Studies, Sophia University, Japan

To register for this event, please send and e-mail to  CU Graduate Student Seminar Series at


UPCOMING EVENT: Book Launch 'Unpacking the Water-Food-Energy "Nexus" in Asia: Power, Politics and Justice' [Bangkok, 21 May 2019]

Tuesday 21 May 2019, 10.00 - 12.00 at Alumni Meeting Room, 12th Floor, Kasem Utthayanin Building (อาคารเกษม อุทยานิน), Faculty of Political Science, Chulalongkorn University, Bangkok, Thailand (guide to the venue here)

The ‘nexus’ of relations between water, food and energy is often seen as a technical matter in public policy, addressing issues of risk, security or economics. In this public seminar, the speakers will discuss their new book on the water-food-energy nexus that challenges some of these underlying assumptions to show that at the very heart of the nexus arise questions about resource politics, ethics, and justice. The public seminar will encourage an interdisciplinary debate on the implications for natural resource policy, including for Asia’s major river basins such as the Ganges and Mekong.

Read more details about the book here, and download an open access chapter.


  • Dipak Gyawali, Nepal Academy of Science and Technology

  • Jeremy Allouche, Institute of Development Studies, University of Sussex (by Skype)

  • Carl Middleton, Center for Social Development Studies, Faculty of Political Science, Chulalongkorn University


  • Dr. Takeshi Ito, Graduate Program in Global Studies, Sophia University

  • Dr. Supawan Visetnoi, Chulalongkorn University School of Agricultural Resources (CUSAR)


  • Dr. Kasira Cheeppensook, Faculty of Political Science, Chulalongkorn University

This event will be broadcasted on Facebook Live:

To register for this event, please e-mail us your name, organisation, and position to  Anisa Widyasari (CSDS) at The seat is limited and registration will be accepted on first come first served basis.


UPCOMING CONFERENCE: Graduate Studies in the Disruptive Society: Innovation in Human Rights, Development Studies and Resource Politics [12-13 July 2018]

UPCOMING CONFERENCE:  Graduate Studies in the Disruptive Society: Innovation in Human Rights, Development Studies and Resource Politics [12-13 July 2018]

In commemoration of the 70th Anniversary of the Faculty of Political Science at Chulalongkorn University, a special conference centered on the idea of academia in activism will be held at Chulalongkorn University from 12-13 July 2018 at the Faculty of Political Science Main Building. 

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