Student Blog — Claire Huitt | The Resource Curse in China

Chinese University of Hong Kong's Dr. Jing Vivian Zhan before her lecture "The Resource Curse in China" Aug. 31.

Chinese University of Hong Kong’s Dr. Jing Vivian Zhan before her lecture “The Resource Curse in China” Aug. 31.

Across the world, the resource curse afflicts numerous resource rich nations. Among them, China struggles to balance the benefits and detriments of its own domestic resources. In this year’s initial colloquium of the Sun & Star Program on Japan and East Asia, Dr. Jing Vivian Zhan of the Chinese University of Hong Kong discussed her own research of the dilemma at the Tower Center event “The Resource Curse in China”.  Zhan specializes in Chinese politics, and, more specifically, state-society relations with a particular focus on state intervention in resource affairs. In her talk, Zhan sought to answer two questions: (1) are natural resources a blessing or a curse, and, (2) how do states respond to this problem?

The short answers to these questions are that many resource or mineral rich developing nations struggle with corruption and other repercussions, and the state actively intervenes in resource problems to prevent these possible consequences. The People’s Republic of China in particular, is both an important consumer and producer of minerals and resources; much of Zhan’s research and data comes from the coal mining industry in China. Zhan has conducted interviews across provinces with local officials, citizens, and managers of mining corporations; additionally she has collected a great deal of statistical data from the Chinese government.

Three effects of the resource curse

In answering whether natural resources are a blessing or a curse, Zhan has found that in resource-rich nations the resource curse often has three effects: (1) natural resources discourage human development, (2) natural resources breed corruption, and (3) natural resources arouse social conflict. China has repeatedly been victim to such social conflict. In one example from 2008, there was a major riot of upwards of 20,000 protesters. Zhan noted, on average, most riots are far smaller in scale, and, additionally, that media control is tight. Two specific causes of resource conflicts in China are the environment and the economy. In terms of the environment, air and soil pollution, water shortages, and land subsidence all cause tension. Economic problems include land expropriation, property and road damage, and labor disputes. At the local level, collectively these issues create friction between the residents, coal-mining corporations, and local officials, and at the national level these frictions manifest in the aforementioned societal problems of the resource curse.

State intervention to prevent conflict

In light of these possible consequences, how can a resource-rich nation like China cope with its resource conflicts? Zhan provided two methods by which the state intervenes to prevent such conflict: (1) reactive strategies to individual conflicts, and (2) preemptive strategies for potential conflicts. The reactive strategy is often mediation by local government officials between the mining sector and local citizens. This is done in a way that can almost be referred to as a bargaining system. Yet when mediation fails, the government adorns what Zhan referred to as a “soft face.” This involves the “skillful deployment” of coercive forces to repress protests. The other method by which the Chinese government intercedes, preemptive strategy, entails intervention in dispute prone areas and processes such as selling land. This again involves government led negotiations, but it also provides resource based economic incentives and opportunities. This may require mining corporations to hire a certain percentage of its workers from the local work force, and in this way this “grassroots governance” helps protect local labor. In turn this creates vested interests among locals; in these situations it may even be beneficial for mining to come to your locality. Additionally, the government often helps to redistribute resource wealth through the provision of public goods or social welfare benefits from resource revenue as a way of minimizing local resistance.

Intervention of the Chinese Communist Party

Ultimately, the Chinese government is by no means a passive actor in the PRC’s resource curse. To explain further, Zhan posed the following question: Why does the Chinese state choose to intervene? Simply put, there are incentives for, namely, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) to remain in power. Since the Tiananmen incident of 1989 it has been one of the utmost goals of the CCP to enforce or maintain social order from the top down. This is materialized through tight personnel control of local officials. Beyond this, the CCP, above all else, strives to stay in power. Displaying its capacity for resource conflict resolution is an important and integral part of maintaining power. The PRC is by no means a totalitarian state, yet the state’s presence in the economy and greater society is extremely well integrated. Even at the lowest level, local governments have a great deal of bargaining power, which allows them to mobilize resources to resolve conflicts.

China faces the resource curse at a subnational level. The Chinese state has actively responded to the resource curse, at least when it threatens regime stability. It has utilized the aforementioned soft strategies, instead of resorting only to hard repression. Therefore, Zhan concluded that there are two necessary conditions for effective state interventions in China’s resource curse: (1) central control over local officials and (2) state penetration into the economy and society.

Listen to Dr. Zhan’s lecture at the Tower Center:

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claire_huitClaire Huitt is a senior at Southern Methodist University triple majoring in public policy, economics, and political science with a focus on international relations and the Asian Pacific. She is a Bauer Scholar in Political Science, Hamilton Scholar, Engaged Learning Fellow, a representative of IGNITE Women in Politics, Chair on Asian Pacific Relations with the Tower Center Student Forum, Dedman School of Law Pre-Law Scholar, New Century Scholar, and a member of the University Honors Program. After graduation Claire intends to attend law school and pursue a career in international law and foreign affairs.

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Founder of LCLD recognized in D CEO

Jorge Baldor, founder of the Latino Center of Leadership Development, was recognized as Latino Advocate by D Magazine‘s  business publication D CEO in the article “Latino Business Awards 2016”. Baldor formed the LCLD in 2014 and funded a research partnership with the Tower Center focusing on public policy issues surrounding Latino communities in 2015.

Read D CEO’s article here.

RSVP to Latino Politics | Latino Decisions in the 2016 Election here.

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Q&A | A Tower Scholar’s life in Uganda


The Tower Center sat down with Tower Scholar Thomas Schmedding, class of 2017, to talk about his time studying abroad and interning in Kampala, Uganda.

Tower Scholars PortraitsDescribe your life in Uganda. 

Life in a developing country is both fascinating and physically/mentally demanding every day. My time in Uganda was full of unexpected opportunities and some of the most memorable experiences of my life. Throughout my four months in Uganda, I saw circumstances I couldn’t have possibly imagined: extreme poverty, inequitable government healthcare and education institutions, and broken social contracts, among others. Despite these challenges though, a sense of hope and optimism always filled the air. The Ugandans I ran into every day couldn’t have been more grateful for their humble circumstances and they were always full of happiness. Waking up every morning, I was honored to be welcomed into such a warm-spirited community.

What was a typical day like for you?

I split my time between a homestay and an apartment. My homestay family was hardworking, supportive, and incredibly caring. In fact, I’ve never met a group of people that would devote so much time to making sure others felt welcomed. They helped me navigate Kampala’s unorganized “taxi” system (A “taxi” in East Africa is 15 people crammed in a conversion van with no organized route), and they taught me how to negotiate in one of Uganda’s 50 local languages at the market.

For the first two months, I took courses on development, Ugandan culture, and research methods through the School for International Training (SIT) with three other American students. I followed this with an internship at a digital health organization dedicated to alleviating Uganda’s doctor-to-patient ratio of about 1:25,000. These two opportunities were complementary in terms of providing experience navigating Uganda’s diverse culture.

What is one lesson you took away from your time there?

I learned a lot about myself when I was in Africa in terms of my life priorities and how my future might change, but as cliché as it sounds, the Anne Frank quote “No one ever becomes poor by giving,” particularly resonated with me. The Ugandan people will give their time and hearts to helping someone, even when there is little for them to gain. For this reason, I found Ugandan people more spiritually and emotionally rich than some Americans.

What is it like transitioning back into life in Dallas and at SMU?

To be honest, transitioning back into Dallas and SMU has been complex. I found a lot of value in my experience, but it has been difficult describing the unimaginable to SMU students, faculty and staff who have never experienced the magnitude of everyday life in a developing country. To articulate this further, I sometimes have small “reverse culture shocks” in Dallas. I went in a supermarket the other day, and I found myself in a daze at the sheer number of cereal varieties. We live in a country where this material gain drives a vast number of products and services, but Uganda taught me to be grateful for even the smallest of choices.

How has this experience impacted your goals for the future?

I’ve always wanted a career dedicated to giving back, but living and working in Uganda emphasized my interest in an international development career. After returning from Uganda, I interned for a large humanitarian organization and am currently interning for a USAID Public-Private Partnership dedicated to food security, with respect to supporting resilience, innovation, and adaptive capacity in developing countries.

An experience in Africa will change you. I can’t imagine following a career path where I don’t have the opportunity to help people achieve their full potential. For this reason, I say ‘weebale emirimu’ (loosely translated: ‘thank you for your work’) to each of my friends, coworkers, and host family members in Uganda.


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Tower Scholars welcome new cohort, seniors begin research

Tower Scholars Beta Cohort, class of 2019: (Back row from left to right) Noelle Kendall, Evan Snyder, Zach Miller, Bradley Potts, Ben Prengler (front row) Syndey Tomlinson, Kelsey Shipman, Destiny Rose Murphy and Emily Elson. Not pictured: Tim Smith

Tower Scholars Beta Cohort, class of 2019: (Back row from left to right) Noelle Kendall, Evan Snyder, Zach Miller, Bradley Potts and Ben Prengler (Front row) Syndey Tomlinson, Kelsey Shipman, Destiny Rose Murphy and Emily Elson. Not pictured: Tim Smith

The Tower Center is pleased to welcome the third cohort of the Highland Capital Management (HCM) Tower Scholars, class of 2019. These 10 scholars have come to SMU from across the country and have equally diverse research interests ranging from science policy and human rights to international cooperation on energy and natural resource challenges.

A key feature of the Tower Scholars Program is the senior-year capstone project in which students are placed with area institutions to carry out policy-related research. This semester, members of the 2017 Legacy Cohort will be making contributions at Hunt Mexico, Parkland Memorial Hospital, the SMU Campus Police and Catholic Charities. Upon concluding the research, each student will present the host institution with a policy white paper.

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Tower Center Welcomes Luisa del Rosal as Executive Director

delRosalThe Tower Center and Mission Foods Texas-Mexico Center have named Luisa del Rosal as their new executive director.

“I am honored to return to the Tower Center for Political Studies as its executive director and to serve as the founding executive director of the newly established Mission Foods Texas-Mexico Center,” Del Rosal said in a press release. “Leading these centers enables me to contribute to the regional, national and global reach of SMU.”

Read the full press release here. Para Español oprime aquí.

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Senior Fellow Ambassador Robert Jordan interviewed by Rigzone

Tower Center Senior Fellow and former U.S. Ambassador to Saudi Arabia Robert Jordan was interviewed by Rigzone to discuss the effects of the shale revolution, which vastly stimulated U.S. production of oil, on jobs in Saudi Arabia and the Saudi-U.S. relationship.

“The traditional view of the relationship with the Saudis is that it’s based on oil, God and real estate” Jordan told Rigzone. “That was certainly the arrangement the United States has had with the Saudis beginning with Franklin Roosevelt in 1945. But it’s about much more than oil.”

Read the story here.

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Tower Center Fellow Sionaidh Douglas-Scott interviewed by Chatham House

Tower Center Fellow and constitutional law expert Sionaidh Douglas-Scott was interviewed by Agnes Frimston for Chatham House’s publication The World Today to explain the complicated course ahead for the UK as it negotiates its exit from Europe.

Read her interview here.

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Talmage Boston Interviewed on Fox 4’s Good Day

Tower Center Board Member and historian Talmage Boston was interviewed on Fox 4’s Good Day segment “What makes a great president?”

Boston’s new book Cross-Examining History comes out in September, and he will give a talk at the Tower Center Nov. 30 at noon.

Watch his interview here.

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Tower Chair Joshua Rovner discusses U.S. strategy, Middle East in new book

Tower Chair Joshua Rovner wrote a chapter discussing U.S. strategy and the Middle East called “After America: The Flow of Persian Gulf Oil in the Absence of the U.S. Military Force” for Crude Strategy, published by Georgetown University Press, and edited by Charles Glaser and Rosemary Kelanic.


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Tower Center Associate Edward Rincón’s research featured in the Dallas Morning News

Tower Center Associate Edward T. Rincón was featured in the Dallas Morning News for his research company’s recent study on the affects of Latino population growth in the Dallas-Fort Worth area on different markets.

The Pew Research Center reported that Latino internet usage increased from 64 percent in 2009 to 84 percent in 2015. Rincón & Associates found that in the Dallas area, Latino internet usage has almost doubled since 2011, according to the Morning News.

Read the full article here:

Why the digital divide between Latinos, Whites is almost closed

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