Volume 34, Issue 5

September 2018
Special Issue on Hydropolitics and Conflict Management in Transboundary River Basins: China and its Neighbours

Editorial »
Hongzhou Zhang and Mingjiang Li

Research Article

A process-based framework to examine China’s approach to transboundary water management

Hongzhou Zhang and Mingjiang Li
Institute of Defence and Strategic Studies, S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, Nanyang Technological University, Singapore

Contact: Hongzhou Zhang | Email: ishzzhang@ntu.edu.sg


As China emerges as a regional and global power and its interest in utilizing the transboundary water resources within its borders continues to grow, a better understanding of China’s policies and practices towards transboundary waters is of critical importance. Scholars have explored various approaches to the study of this subject, including the legal perspective, the socioeconomic-environmental lens, the foreign relations/neighbourhood diplomacy angle, and international relations theories. Each approach has its merits and weaknesses. On the basis of all the existing analytical studies, this article proposes a process-based framework to study China’s policies towards transboundary water management.

Pages: 705-731

https://doi.org/10.1080/07900627.2018.1476225 (Open Access)

Research Article

China’s domestic hydropolitics: an assessment and implications for international transboundary dynamics

Scott Moore
Independent Researcher, Bryn Mawr, PA, USA

Contact: Scott Moore | Email: scottm@alumni.princeton.edu


This article reviews the dynamics of conflict and cooperation between sub-national administrative jurisdictions in China, and assesses the implications of these dynamics for its transboundary waterways. The article argues that domestic hydropolitics can rival the international variety in both complexity and contentiousness. This is especially true in China because of its marked fiscal-economic decentralization, which creates considerable interjurisdictional conflict. These internal politics may help explain tension between China and its neighbours over transboundary rivers, and future research should attempt to more fully link the domestic and international arenas.

Pages: 732-746


Research Article

China’s dam-builders: their role in transboundary river management in South-East Asia

Frauke Urbana, Giuseppina Sicilianoa and Johan Nordensvardb
aCenter for Development, Environment and Policy (CeDEP), SOAS, University of London, London, UK; bDepartment of Sociology, Social Policy and Criminology, University of Southampton, Southampton, UK

Contact: Frauke Urban | Email: f.urban@soas.ac.uk


This article investigates China’s role as the world’s largest builder of and investor in large dams, focussing on the Greater Mekong Sub-Region in South-East Asia. It addresses the role Chinese actors play in dam-building as well as the environmental, social, economic and political implications by drawing on case studies from Cambodia and Vietnam. The article finds that China’s dam-building is perceived very differently in different countries of South-East Asia. In Cambodia, the dams in the Greater Mekong Sub-Region are considered instruments of economic growth and development, whereas downstream in Vietnam the dams are seen as potentially undermining national growth, development and security.

Pages: 747-770

https://doi.org/10.1080/07900627.2017.1329138 (Open Access)

Research Article

Intergovernmental cooperation on the Amur River basin management in the twenty-first century

Eugene Simonova and Eugene Egidarevb
aInternational Coalition Rivers without Boundaries/Daursky Biosphere Reserve, Nizhny Tsasuchei, Zabaikalsky Kray, Russian Federation; bPacific Geographical Institute, Far East Branch Russian Academy of Sciences, Amur Branch of the World Wildlife Fund (WWF–Russia), Vladivostok, Russian Federation

Contact: Eugene Egidarev | Email: egidarev@yandex.ru


This article describes several important topics in river management relationships between the Chinese, Mongolian and Russian governments, such as hydropower, water transfer and flood control, to illustrate various less known aspects of transboundary river basin management patterns in the Amur River basin. This is intended to establish a baseline account of transboundary water management in this shared river basin in the wake of major changes dictated by China’s wider transboundary and domestic policies such as the Belt and Road Initiative and Ecological Civilization and to consider to what extent the emerging shifts in environmental and development policies have already been manifested in cooperation on the transboundary river.

Pages: 771-791


Research Article

Using transboundary environmental security to manage the Mekong River: China and South-East Asian Countries

R. Edward Grumbinea,b,c
aGrand Canyon Trust, Flagstaff, AZ, USA; bWorld Agroforestry Center (ICRAF) East and Central Asia, Kunming, China; cKunming Institute of Botany, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Kunming, China

Contact: R. Edward Grumbine | Email: egrumbine@grandcanyontrust.org


Environmental security, broadly defined as integrated analysis of the social and ecological aspects of environmental problems, is gaining influence as nations begin to expand beyond traditional conceptions of national security. The Mekong River basin provides an instructive example of challenges to the evolution of environmental security in Asia. An overview of six main security stressors – ecosystem degradation, food, energy, water, development, and climate change – reveals the need for transboundary governance reform. China may be in a position to undertake new leadership in the Mekong, which could result in more cooperation, but only if that leadership embraces more deliberative and inclusive behaviour.

Pages: 792-811


Research Article

Conceptualizing Chinese engagement in South-East Asian dam projects: evidence from Myanmar’s Salween River

Julian Kirchherr
Faculty of Geosciences, Utrecht University, Utrecht, the Netherlands

Contact: Julian Kirchherr | Email: j.kirchherr@uu.nl


Chinese engagement in South-East Asian dam projects is usually conceptualized by scholars as directly driven by China’s political leadership as part of a larger package whose terms would only be favourable to the Chinese party. This article argues against this notion, conceptualizing Chinese engagement in South-East Asian dam projects as engagement that can also be directly driven by a Chinese dam developer in a standalone project whose terms are favourable to all contractual parties involved. The cases of the Mong Ton and Hat Gyi dams on Myanmar’s Salween River, which feature the involvement of the Chinese dam developers China Three Gorges Corporation and Sinohydro, are presented as evidence for this latter conceptualization.

Pages: 812-828


Research Article

Powering or sharing water in the Brahmaputra River basin

Anamika Baruaa, Sumit Vijand Mirza Zulfiqur Rahmana
aDepartment of Humanities and Social Sciences, Indian Institute of Technology, Guwahati; bPublic Administration and Policy Group, Wageningen University & Research, the Netherlands

Contact: Sumit Vij | Email: sumit.vij@wur.nl


This article examines the power interplay that shapes the transboundary water interaction in the Brahmaputra River basin. The article provides two key insights based on data sharing and bilateralism aspects. First, the lack of a standard, hydrological data-sharing mechanism has created a sense of mistrust between riparians. Second, bilateralism and power asymmetry between the riparian countries has created a sense of unilateral control over the Brahmaputra River. This article concludes that due to regional geopolitics, issues of sovereignty, and unequal power, negotiation for a multilateral basin-wide treaty at this moment is a non-starter in the Brahmaputra basin.

Pages: 829-843

https://doi.org/10.1080/07900627.2017.1403892 (Open Access)