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Infrastructure as Asset or Public Good: Who Gives a Dam? Financing Development and Development Finance Along the Mekong and Ayeyarwaddy

  • Columbia University International Affairs Building Rm. 918 420 W 118th St New York, NY 10027 (map)

Global investments in the energy infrastructure sector have received the lion’s share of contemporary financing from the public and private sector in the twenty-first century. Infrastructure building in the nineteenth and twentieth century traditionally served to embody the modernizing ambitions of successive states in their bid to construct public goods and lay foundations for their industrialization strategies. Since the end of the 20th century and particularly after the 1997 Asian Financial Crisis however, paradigmatic shifts in the private turn in development have expanded and deepened the reach of financial markets in the developing world. While liberalizing reforms to facilitate the entry of private sector actors into financing for development have been led by the usual Bretton Woods institutions, the author argues that these reforms have facilitated the vociferous entry of non-traditional actors and coordinated business groups from the emerging economies of East and Southeast Asia seeking high returns in a business model which treats infrastructure building as an asset in their portfolio-driven quest to transition from ‘national champions’ to international powerhouses. Emerging regional development finance is rapidly changing the environmental and economic landscapes of mainland Southeast Asia, creating a new round of debt and dependency which cuts against popular notions of win-win ‘south-south’ development. The author compares similar and divergent trends in hydro-infrastructure financing in Lao PDR and Myanmar and discusses the present and future of socio-environmental governance along the Mekong and Ayeyarwaddy.

About the Speaker:Dr. Pon Souvannaseng is a Research Associate at the Global Development Institute at the University of Manchester. Her research interests include aid politics and development finance; the political economy of energy security and infrastructure expansion, particularly in Asia and Africa, and issues of environmental governance and regulation. She conducts research in West Africa and mainland Southeast Asia on the UKRI-funded FutureDAMS research programme. She has previously served as a Fellow in Political Economy and International Development at University College London (UCL) and as a Research Analyst at the United Nations Research Institute for Social Development (UNRISD). She has been a Fulbright Research Scholar in Southeast Asia and a CODESRIA-CLACSO-APISA South-South Young Laureate Award holder. She holds degrees from the LSE and Tufts University in Political Science.

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