Geopolitics in the Mekong Region: The Role of Chinese Energy Politics in Laos and Cambodia


Energy, and who controls it, has emerged as a major issue in Southeast Asia in recent years. Nowhere is this issue more evident than in the Mekong region, where China’s influence on the politics of energy has been steadily on the rise under the umbrella of its Belt and Road Initiative. China’s investments have supported Cambodia in being able to meet its increasing domestic energy demand, and are also helping Laos to fulfil its vision of becoming the ‘battery of Asia’. Meanwhile, renewed US commitment and additional funding to the Mekong region has been welcomed. Nevetheless, whether that translates into viable alternatives to Beijing’s massive trade and investment, and growing influence, remains to be seen.

Joining Dr Natali Pearson on SSEAC Stories, Dr Andrea Haefner unpacks the role of Chinese energy politics in Laos and Cambodia, and reflects on the impact of the recent economic downturn caused by the Covid-19 pandemic.

About Andrea Haefner:

Dr Andrea Haefner is a Lecturer at the Griffith Asia Institute and has over 15 years of experience working with academia, government, and international organisations across Australia, Germany, and Southeast Asia, especially the Mekong region where she lived and worked for four years in Laos. Andrea's research focuses on transboundary river basin, geopolitics, and governing civil society in the Mekong region. Besides publishing several peer-reviewed articles, Andrea's book on Negotiating for Water Resources - Bridging Transboundary River Basins was published with Routledge in 2016. In addition to focusing on impact research and policy relevance, Andrea also works on several projects on the ground and regularly leads capacity building programs. In 2021, Andrea received the ABDC Award for Innovation and Excellence in International Education.

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Natali Pearson

Dr Natali Pearson is Curriculum Coordinator at the Sydney Southeast Asia Centre, a university-wide multidisciplinary center at the University of Sydney, Australia. Her research focuses on the protection, management and interpretation of underwater cultural heritage in Southeast Asia.

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