Accepted paper:

China came, China built, China left?: The Sarawakian experience with Chinese dam building.


Shun Deng Fam (Australian National University)

Paper short abstract:

The work of Sinohydro at Bakun displaced 15 longhouses and flooded tropical rainforests. The dendritic lake means varied access of the communities’ ancestral lands. Sinohydro managed to isolate itself from indigenous communities, such they are forgotten in local debates on displacement compensation.

Paper long abstract:

China's entered the Sarawakian hydropower scene in a big way, with their first project being the Bakun Hydroelectric Dam, the crown jewel of the state's development scheme, SCORE (Sarawak Corridor of Renewable Energy). By constructing this massive 2,400MW dam, Sinohydro directly contributed to the displacement of 10,000 indigenous people, the flooding of 700 sqkm of tropical rainforests in one of the most biodiverse biomes in the world, and the fragmentation of formerly productive fisheries. Bakun Lake also suffers from massive logjams as a result of the fluctuations of the lake levels. The formation of the elongated dendritic lake means that different communities have differential access to their ancestral lands, from an hour, to a whole day and 400L of petrol. resulting in various degrees of exploitation of resources depending of travelling time.

Sinohydro employed almost no indigenous help, preferring to import Chinese construction workers. This results in an isolation of the Chinese company from the displaced communities. Prior to their pulling out of the project, Hydro Tasmania and Rio Tinto Alcan had been working with the communities to provide resettlement assistance, through consultations of the rebuilding of the new longhouses, for example. On the other hand, Sinohydro did not involve themselves with the resettlement process, nor did they help with the environmental mitigation process. This isolation is to such an extent that during informal interviews, many of the local indigenous people were aware of Australian help, blamed their government for the resettlement troubles but the lack of Chinese involvement in their compensation programs did not seem to strike them.

panel P69
Political ecology of rising China (roundtable format)