Post-Earthquake Power Corridors: Hydropower, Highways, and the Discursive Space for Chinese Development in Nepal

Authors: Austin Lord*, Cornell University, Galen Murton, James Madison University
Topics: Hazards, Risks, and Disasters, China, Energy
Keywords: Infrastructure, Disaster, China, Energy, Himalayas, Nepal
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/12/2018
Start / End Time: 8:00 AM / 9:40 AM
Room: Regent, Marriott, River Tower Elevators, 4th Floor
Presentation File: No File Uploaded

This article examines the expanding production of Chinese-facilitated infrastructure development projects in Nepal. We investigate how major earthquakes in 2015 broke new ground and made space to reshape Sino-Nepal alliances dedicated to trans-Himalayan connectivity, energy security, and integrated approaches to development in borderland regions. Focusing on the intensification of Chinese investment in post-earthquake Nepal, we consider the ways that new partnerships between Kathmandu and Beijing have been forged by framing risk and opportunity in particular ways as well as by leveraging catastrophes both real and imagined (Simpson 2014). Building on previous conceptualizations of a “handshake across the Himalayas” (Murton, Lord, and Beazley 2016), this paper considers contemporary efforts to create ‘power corridors’ in two regions of Nepal that have been severely affected by the 2015 earthquakes and tentatively incorporated into China’s Belt & Road Initiative (BRI). In the districts of Rasuwa and Gorkha, a portfolio of hydropower projects and road corridors facilitated by Chinese investment represent the leading edge of Nepali aspirations of energy sovereignty and increased trade, but also reflect the post-disaster narrative of ‘building back better.’ Combining ethnographic research and discourse analysis, our study connects borderland villages and remote construction sites to the political chambers of urban elites, highlighting a plurality of infrastructural aspirations among diverse publics. Our findings demonstrate how humanitarian aid and reconstruction projects converge in the wake of disaster to co-produce new spaces and strategies for Chinese institutions to engage as leading development actors amid the increasing precarity and ‘creative destruction’ of the 21st century.

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