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Centre for Development, Environment and Policy (CeDEP)

China Goes Global: A comparative study of Chinese hydropower dams in Africa and Asia

Staff members

Dr. Frauke Urban,  Principal Investigator

Professor Laurence Smith, Co-Investigator

Dr. Giuseppina Siciliano (Research Fellow/Project Manager)

Funding Period

15 October 2012 - 14 April 2016


Professor Giles Mohan, Co-Investigator

Dr May Tan-Mullins, Co-Investigator

Objectives and Scope

China’s rapid economic growth has created a series of pressures which has forced the country to engage more closely with a number of low and middle income countries (LMICs). China’s growth has depleted scarce domestic natural resources and so part of its ‘Going Out Strategy’ encourages overseas investment to access natural resources such as energy and minerals. Access to overseas natural resources, new markets and technological advances, have made China the world’s largest player in large hydropower dam projects, usually backed by state finance and state-owned enterprises.

The aim of this project is to provide the first systematic and comparative analysis of the environmental, social, economic and political impacts of Chinese hydropower dam projects in low and middle income countries, that will inform corporate behaviour of hydropower firms in China and the UK and shape emerging national and international policy responses. 

Four themes will be thoroughly investigated: 

  1. Organization and motives of Chinese hydropower actors; 
  2. Local and National Impacts; 
  3. Governance implications; 
  4. UK and OECD interests.

This project is a direct outcome of the ESRC-funded project ‘China as a new ‘shaper’ of international development’ (Ref: RES-075-25-0019) under the Rising Powers (RPs) Network scheme. The team now intends to advance the intellectual agenda and the insights gained in the network phase by conducting further work on China’s role in international development and to build on the institutional partnerships created in the first phase. The project will apply a multi-sited, comparative case study approach and will involve detailed empirical research in Ghana, Nigeria, Cambodia and Malaysia, which represent different facets of China’s hydropower in the global South.

We will conduct four case studies - two for Africa (Ghana, Nigeria) and two for Asia (Cambodia, Malaysia) - each of which has been chosen for representing a specific approach to Chinese dam building. Each involves the Chinese as dam developers, focuses on dams of more than 50MW, where construction has recently been completed or is in progress, and where access to the sites and to local communities is favourable. The hydropower projects under investigation are: Bui Dam in Ghana, Zamfara Dam in Nigeria, Kamchay Dam in Cambodia and Bakun Dam in Malaysia.

The project team comprises 10 institutes from the UK, China and each of the 4 countries involved in the case studies: SOAS, the Open University, University of Nottingham Ningbo in China, the University of Ghana, Cambodia Development Resource Institute CDRI, the Nigerian Institute of Social and Economic Research, Nottingham University in Malaysia, Universiti Malaysia Sabah, Tsinghua University in Beijing and International Rivers.
The research project will last 3 years in total, from October 2012 to October 2015, and is funded by the UK Economic and Social Research Council ESRC (reference ES/J01320X/1).

ESRC project website: China goes global


Articles / Journal publications
Policy brief
Media report
  • Urban, Frauke (2014) 'China goes global.' International Innovation Environment Report, , 159 . pp. 83-85.


For further information please contact:

Dr. Frauke Urban (Principal Investigator), f.urban@soas.ac.uk or

Dr. Giuseppina Siciliano (Research Fellow/Project Manager), gs45@soas.ac.uk