Chinese infrastructure as spatial fix? A political ecology of development finance and irrigation in Cambodia


W. Nathan Green and Rosa Yi

Singapore Journal of Tropical Geography

View article

Abstract: China has recently become an agent of intensified agricultural production in Southeast Asia by constructing large-scale irrigation systems. Funded with Chinese development finance, such infrastructure projects have been interpreted as a ‘spatial fix’ for capital accumulation in China, which helps explain the shifting balance of power within the region’s political economy. However, we argue that explaining the local outcomes of these projects requires mapping out Chinese development finance in relation to the multi-scalar network of actors, circuits of capital, and struggles over water that produce irrigated landscapes. We draw on our joint research about the Chinese-funded and built Kanghot Irrigation Development Project in Cambodia. We explain how the construction of Kanghot was shaped by the historical and political relations between China and Cambodia. Since completion in 2016, Kanghot irrigation has transformed agricultural production by enrolling farmers into a network of volatile commodity markets and harmful pest ecologies. There have also been ongoing community struggles over Kanghot’s water due to the project’s design and institutional management. By broadening the idea of infrastructure as spatial fix to include these material and social processes of agrarian landscape production, this paper advances a political ecology of Chinese development finance in Southeast Asia.

About the author: Rosa Yi is a NUS-HYI Joint Doctoral Scholar, 2021-24.