My current and future research investigate how countries in the global south pursue development in the context of global economic shifts, particularly China’s rise. I have advanced my research agenda through twenty two published and forthcoming papers, divided into eleven articles and eleven book chapters. Using mixed-methods approaches and focusing on maritime Southeast Asia, I look at various themes, particularly inter-elite competition, institutional change, social conflicts, ecological ramifications, and growth strategies across host country sectors.

“The Strong Leader” Trap

My dissertation, “The ‘Strong Leader’ Trap: The Unintended Consequence of China’s Global Investment Strategy,” examines how China pursues and protects its commercial interest in risky environments. I suggest that the preexisting strategies established by the West and Japan, particularly shaping institutions, using international organizations, or establishing national strategic coordination with firms, to protect their commercial interests abroad do not apply to China. To protect the investments and activities of their firms, I argue that China seeks and befriends strong leaders, defined as those who are willing and capable of using violence to constrain mobilization, circumvent institutional checks, and hold significant elite-mass support. Through major foreign direct investment (FDI) and development finance projects, China tries to win over these ‘strong leaders’ in hopes of securing the protection of Chinese firms. However, there is a disconnect between the perceived and actual strength of the leader. Depending on the gap of both strengths, there are four possible outcomes that could to significant political and social costs for China. These outcomes are cancellation, pushback, missed opportunities, and inaction. The dissertation is built on in-depth elite interviews with Southeast Asian politicians, oligarchs, Chinese policy elites, firm representatives, and political brokers in the Philippines, Indonesia, and Malaysia countries. Since 2017, I have done extensive fieldwork in the three countries, conducting long-term visits in provinces and project sites. Additionally, I also interviewed country experts across Southeast Asia, analyzing whether or not elite and experts’ assessments matched one another.

Elites, Environment, and Chinese Capital

I have explored questions related to my research agenda in four complimentary dimensions. First, one set of projects explores elite accommodation politics and Chinese capital across different countries. My article at Development and Change (2020) illustrates how Chinese firms in infrastructure and online gambling work with various Philippine elite factions with accumulation- or legibility-driven agendas. I compare Chinese railway projects in the Philippines, Indonesia, and Malaysia in a revise and resubmit at Development Policy Review and a previous version at Boston University’s Global Development and Policy Center. In a revise and resubmit at Energy Strategy Review, examine why Philippine political elites did not oppose Chinese FDI in the energy utilities while those same elites mobilized against investments in infrastructure, mining, agriculture, and banking. Conversely, I explore elite collective action against Chinese capital, particularly in the relationship between on-militarized territorial disputes Chinese foreign direct investments, such as my articles at Singapore Economic Review (2020) and Palgrave Communications (2017).  

Second, I explore capital inflows and environmental change.  Analyzing Chinese investments specifically, my article at Extractive Industries and Society (2020) shows that Chinese firms in the nickel mining sector invest differently across countries, working with Indonesian national elites in large-scale mining and Filipino local elites in artisanal small-scale mining. Two book chapter at “Mobilities of Labour and Capital in Asia” (published by Cambridge University Press) and “In China’s Backyard” (published by ISEAS–Yusof Ishak Institute) analyze Chinese capital in Philippine small-scale mining. My other articles at Extractive Industries and Society (2015) examines how global transformations and the subsequent socio-ecological contradictions shape the pattern of mineral resource extraction in the Philippines from the American colonial period (1901-1941) to the current era. My Journal of Agrarian Change (2019) article finds a similar pattern in the Philippine cash crop industries, noting American investment in the draft animal sector allowed the firms and their allies to expand agricultural frontiers from coconut to sugar across the Philippines.

Third, another set of projects elucidates the conditions under which governments can induce foreign capital into distributive-oriented projects. My publications at Environmental Policy and Governance (2020) and the Austrian Journal of Southeast Asian Studies (2016) explore the Philippine mining sector during a more contemporary period (2001-). The former examines how the inclusion of civil society in policy making enables the successful diffusion of global norms, while the latter demonstrates how the neoliberal era allows state-capital collusion to circumvent procedures laid out for responsible mining. My revise and resubmit at Third World Quarterly analyzes the conditions for host country governments to acquire positive spillover effects from Chinese capital in order to bolster industrial policy.

And finally, several articles explore the investment logic of Chinese firms across sectors and regime types, such as revise and resubmits at Journal of Contemporary China, Area Development and Policy, and Third World Quarterly. Five other papers under review in various development and sociology journals also fit in four dimensions. Some examples of the paper include:

“The Politics of Chinese  Investments: Large-Scale Mining and Small-Scale Mining in the Philippines and Indonesia.”

Examining Divergence in FDI Transmission Channels: Chinese-funded Industrial Parks in Indonesia and Malaysia,” with Kevin Gallagher and Guanie Lim

“The Contentious Politics of Capital: The Political Economy of Chinese Investments in the Philippines.” Honorable Mention, Best Graduate Student Paper Award, American Sociological Association’s Section on the Sociology of Development, 2018.