星期四, 三月 05, 2009

Sudan and China's Dam building frenzy

It is so coincidental that Sudan held the inauguration of the Chinese-funded Merowe dam in the Nile River, while the International Criminal Court issued a warrant to the current President, Omar al-Bashir. Ironically, when the international community called for the obligation of Sudan's President, China called for a suspension of the warrant. Even though the warrant does not take any effect as Sudan is not a signatory of such treaty, and may not help resolve the conflicts between the current regime and the opposition, China's declaration does not help minimize its image in its inclination to the authoritarian regime, and their intent to solve the internal conflicts within Sudan.

Meanwhile, China has announced their involvements in dam projects of various places, which are somewhat groundbreaking and even controversial. The first mainstream dam project on the Brahmaputra in Tibet, Zangmu, has made important progress. The contract for the concrete and aggregate processing services have already been awarded to China's Gezhouba Group. In addition, in another news, Tibet Autonomous Region's government ordered to stop any new construction plan in the Zangmu dam's flooded area last year. All these implied that the Gezhouba Group will start preparation and construction of the project very soon.

However, the politics among countries of Brahmaputra river basin is more complicated than that in the Mekong, since India also has dam plan in the upstream of Bangladesh. India here definitely lost the moral ground in front of China's plan. So how can the downstream civil society respond to these governments' positions?

On the other hand, China's interest is not only limited to Tibet, but also Ecuador. Recently when China's vice-Premier, Hui Liangyu, visited Ecuador, he also signed a package of agreements in bilateral trade and economic cooperation. One of the potential projects is the Coca-Codo-Sincalir hydropower project. Both Gezhouba and Sinohydro have already submitted their bid to the project, together with the project finance proposal. If built, this will be the first large dam project in Ecuador, which is funded by China.

This year seems to be the year of recovery for dam building. China has announced their intention to approve a large number of domestic hydropower projects, in order to balance the proportion of energy sources and serve as an effort to combat global warming. In addition, many developing countries are seeking assistance from China to build dams. How can we put a brake before such projects are approved? What kind of strategy can we put to halt such projects until the people can get prior informed consent and fulfill the rest of WCD guidelines such as energy option assessment. This will be the major challenge for environmental activists.

星期日, 三月 01, 2009

Beyond Nu River campaign - Quest for theoretical framework

This year could be the right time to review and move beyond my commitment to the Chinese environmental movement.

In the M-POWER meeting in Kunming, I submitted a short research paper on the Mekong's media space, in an attempt to break through the existing deadlock in the movement. But in the meantime, I came across a bigger framework, which struck me and already assigned a much broader vision to my initiatives.

While my researcher friend is looking into the framing of the Nu River campaign's discourse, I am looking for the existing theories that may be comparable to such discourse. What I refer here is Deliberative Democracy.

I thought one of the reasons why I chose media space is that the media is playing an active role in deliberation and building civil society in the free world's politics, but not yet in the most of the Mekong region.

Will the media play such a role? Are there potential for the media to fully reflect all the viewpoints of various stakeholders in development? Will this happen in the Mekong region? Should I choose other channels than traditional media?

Probably before going into the theory of Deliberative Democracy, I have to answer myself the questions like "Can deliberation lead to better (re)solutions?"

May or may not. I have to admit that I am a beginner to such theory. I believe that many colleagues intentionally or un-intentionally attempt to experiment deliberation in their own platforms, such as the M-POWER meeting in Kunming, the TERRA/FER's Mekong mainstream dam meeting in Bangkok, or even the hydropower consultation organized by Mekong River Commission (MRC).

Several NGO friends join the three meetings, but I only joined the previous two. I can only make very preliminary comparison, according to my friends. M-POWER meeting does not seem to be a good idea for deliberation. I suspect the problem might come from its "pseudo-academic" setting, while the other two are NGO meeting and government consultation respectively.

The first key question that comes to my mind is: How can a deliberation happen where various stakeholders feel meaningful, and feel equally treated? Are there criteria towards a successful deliberation? What kind of setting will help?

In the TERRA meeting, it is basically an NGO meeting, and the officials joined by invitation. Finally, only a few technocrats and MRC officials joined the meeting. As I said, I did not join the MRC consultation, so I cannot comment. But I suppose that the consultation is basically led and dominated by MRC officials.

I believe in either TERRA meeting or MRC consultation, not all the stakeholders feel equally treated. Unfortunately M-POWER meeting has yet to fill in the gap. The NGO friends even think that creation of more similar platforms does not help.

My second question is: do we need more forum for deliberation? Or do we need other forms of deliberation than simply forum? How can we make sure all the stakeholders equally treated?

Another key issue that surrounds Deliberative Democracy is: can development debate be effective throughout deliberation? Are there past success stories? Can deliberation be effective in countries where the development discourse normally dominate, like China?

As my friend indicated, it may be too early to put the existing framework for the Nu River campaign. But we both agreed that there must be places that the existing framework (deliberative democracy?) and Nu River campaign discourse converge.

Definitely there are many questions left unanswered, and many gaps not yet filled. This is perhaps the mission I am going to pursue and complete in the rest of my life.