China on the Mekong: legitimacy imperatives and policy case studies
Knott, Gregory J.
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Chinas economic reforms revealed the Chinese Communist Partys search for a new basis for political legitimacy and authority. The PRCs contemporary political bargain is best characterized as a tenuous balance between economic modernization and political repression. This dichotomous political bargain yields a fragile legitimacy, aspects of which activate to shape Chinas Mekong River policies. This paper examines the impact of the CCPs fragile legitimacy on two case studies involving Chinas Mekong River economic interests, involving (1) hydropower dams and (2) counter-narcotics enforcement. Chinas hydroelectric pursuits on the Mekong are predominantly shaped by the regimes economic growth mandate, concerns about domestic inequality, and demands to alleviate social costs arising from recent development. Chinas counter-narcotics efforts on the Mekong River are also tied to economic considerations, but increasingly reflect the Partys efforts to enhance its nationalist and security credentials. Chinas Mekong River policies illustrate how the CCPs domestic motivations deserve greater weight in explaining the perception of Chinas increasing assertiveness.
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