Hydropower Planning in Informal Institutional Settings: Chinese Institutions and the Failure of Environmental and Social Regulation in Cambodia

  • Oliver Hensengerth


This study considers Chinese hydropower investment in Cambodia, examining the degree to which Chinese companies adhere to international or national environmental and social standards and analysing the roles played by and the interactions between Chinese and Cambodian actors in the building of hydropower capacity in Cambodia. The example used is the Kamchay Dam, built by Sinohydro and financed by the China Export Import Bank (China Exim Bank). An analysis of the distribution of responsibilities enables us to take a close look at interactions, processes and conflicts between the two sides in the planning and implementation of hydroelectric dams. It also enables us to identify weak points in the environmental and social regulations and to direct criticism more precisely, thus avoiding general accusations against either the Cambodian government or Chinese companies. The legal and political situation in Cambodia is made difficult by a number of factors: a neo-patrimonial, authoritarian polity in combination with elite economic interests produces a legally problematic situation in which personal interests and perceptions outweigh abstract administrative processes. This explains the failure of environmental and social regulation in Cambodia.


Environmental Impact Assessment Environmental Impact Assessment Hydropower Station Asian Development Bank Hydropower Project 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.



The author would like to express his gratitude to the following people and institutions who made the research for this study possible: Hady Riad, Counsellor at the German Embassy in Phnom Penh; In Veasna at the German Embassy in Phnom Penh; the Ministry of Industry, Mines and Energy; the Ministry of Environment; the Cambodian Investment Board; the Ministry of Agriculture; Katrin Seidel, then Head of the Heinrich Böll Foundation in Phnom Penh; Jean-Yves Dekeister; and Petra Schill, then MRC-GTZ Cooperation Programme Coordinator at the GTZ/GIZ Office in Vientiane. I am also grateful to Mark Grimsditch for his detailed comments on a previous draft of this article.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Social Sciences and LanguagesNorthumbria UniversityNewcastleUK

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