Caixin reporter in Cambodia

August 31, 2011

Inviting Chinese reporters to Cambodia (and Laos) so they get first-hand experience of issues related to dam construction is an approach that was pioneered, I think, by the American Friends Service Committee, but seems to be increasingly popular. Zhang Hong, the London-based Europe reporter for the Caixin financial news website a long and thoughtful post on her blog about a visit, arranged by the NGO 3SPN, to the villages in Ratanakiri Province that is the site of a planned dam on the Srepok River, to be built by an affiliate of Datang. (Here is an abbreviated English translation of her post.)

To her surprise, villagers said they wanted “no electricity, no dam, no compensation.” Apparently it wasn’t, as she had expected, a matter of appropriate consultation, mitigation, and compensation. No: these villagers really didn’t want development.

Was it something that “extremist” NGOs convinced them of — as one of her Cambodian interlocutors suggested? A result of insufficient information and knowledge on the benefits of electricity? Or is it really that these villagers think differently from their peers in China? “I am very curious why ‘development is the hard truth’ has penetrated human hearts so deeply in China … but it doesn’t work in these Southeast Asian countries.” Doesn’t it? If it doesn’t, why? This is indeed the crucial question.

As if confirming her point, the Chinese comments on her blog unanimously defend Deng Xiaoping’s dictum “development is the hard truth.”