A new deal gives China control of Laos’ power grid as the country faces looming debt from hydropower dams and other development projects. But the arrangement risks turning “the battery of Southeast Asia” into “the battery of China.”
In Laos, the push for hydropower near the ancient capital of Luang Prabang shows that plans to dam the Mekong River basin are already going awry. But rather than learning from its missteps, the government—with the help of Thai and Vietnamese developers—is going ahead with a dam that could endanger a UNESCO World Heritage city.
Two years after a dam in southern Laos collapsed, displacing thousands, the country’s hydropower gold rush continues. As the companies and governments involved refuse to take responsibility for what happened, Laos still pins its hopes on hydropower without addressing the risks.