Politics and discourse in China’s South-North Water Transfer Project

Contemporary China Seminar Series, Centre for Contemporary Chinese Studies, Asia Institute, University of Melbourne

Politics and discourse in China’s South-North Water Transfer Project
Dr Britt Crow-Miller, Arizona State University

5.30-7.00pm Thursday 1 June, 2017
Arts West North Wing, Room 556, University of Melbourne, Parkville

Admission is free, but places are limited so registration is essential.

Despite significant financial, ecological and social trade-offs, the Chinese government has moved forward with constructing and operationalizing the world’s largest interbasin water transfer project to date, the South-North Water Transfer Project (SNWTP). While it is fundamentally linked to broader political-economic goals within the context of China’s development agenda, the SNWTP is frequently discussed in apolitical terms. Based on extensive discourse analysis and interviews with government officials across North China, I argue that the Chinese government is using “discourses of deflection” to present the project as politically neutral in order to serve its ultimate goal of maintaining the high economic growth rates that underpin its continued legitimacy. These discourses, which replace concerns with human-exacerbated water stress with naturalized narratives about water scarcity and the ecological benefits of water transfer, serve to deflect attention away from anthropogenic sources of water stress in the North China Plain and serve as apolitical justifications for pursuing a short-term supply-side approach rather than the more politically challenging and longer-term course of dealing with the underlying drivers of water stress in the region.

Dr Britt Crow-Miller is an Assistant Professor at the School for the Future of Innovation in Society at Arizona State University. Her recent work examines the underlying political-economic agendas driving China’s South-North Water Transfer Project, the world’s largest water control project to date, which lubricates urban and industrial growth in North China. She also has ongoing projects dealing with scalar politics, STS framings of water infrastructure projects, as well as innovations in sustainable urban water management and collaboration in the American West. Crow-Miller’s research focuses on the question of how power, politics, and technologies work to shape and constrain development pathways and their socio-environmental impacts in China, the Western U.S., and around the world. She received her Ph.D. in Geography from UCLA in 2013, holds an M.A. from Harvard University in Regional Studies-East Asia, and a B.A. from Bard College.