Charting New Pathways Towards Inclusive and Sustainable Development of the Nu River Valley
Yu Xiaogang, Chen Xiangxue, Carl Middleton and Nicholas Lo
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Development comes at a cost, but what that cost is and who bears that cost is not set in stone. China’s rapid economic ascent has lifted hundreds of millions out of poverty, but it has also precipitated severe ecological crises. In many cases, a “pollute first, clean up later” mentality towards industrialization has led to inequitable and unjust outcomes for both people and the environment. The Chinese government’s efforts on maintaining high economic growth rates in an effort to modernize the economy and society has in many cases obscured the scale of damage done to the environment, though the Chinese government and other institutional actors are actively taking steps to mitigate and alleviate issues of environmental degradation. The story of the Nu River, also known as the Salween or the Thanlwin, illustrates how hydropower development on the river was actively contested and resisted by diverse stakeholders, opening up possibilities for other kinds of water resource management and development.
The diverse political-economic agendas of Chinese government actors including national Ministries, local bureaucrats and state-owned enterprises, as well as those of non-state actors such as civil society groups, scholars and environmentalists, have led to the articulation of various development models for the governance and management of lands, waters and ecosystems in China. The authors analyze such development models for the Nu-Salween-Thanlwin River basin, home to over 10 million people across China, Myanmar and Thailand, through a pathways approach, charting the historical and contemporary political-economic drivers and rationales shaping water governance, and how those factors play out in policy and practice.
Whichever development pathway is realized for Nu River within China’s borders will have ripple effects far beyond national boundary lines, as China’s policies (and their implementation) have wide- ranging impacts on communities and ecosystems in neighboring countries. By mapping out and analyzing these divergent pathways in this report, we consider how decision-making processes of water governance in China can be opened up to a wider array of stakeholders with a more diverse range of values and forms of knowledge. By building upon the historical trajectories of these pathways and how they shape options in the present, and by understanding how stakeholders support and contest different development narratives, we articulate how alternative visions of development can be realized in the Nu-Salween-Thanlwin basin.
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