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Japanese Development Consultancies and Postcolonial Power in Southeast Asia: The Case of Burma’s Balu Chaung Hydropower Project


Through investigating the construction of Japan’s first wartime reparations project—the Balu Chaung Hydropower Station Number Two in Burma—this article traces the formation of postcolonial power relationships within Japan’s postwar technical aid system in Southeast Asia. Kubota Yutaka and his colleagues at Nippon Kōei, the development consultancy that planned and supervised the project, had long careers constructing dams and other infrastructure throughout Japan’s former empire in Asia. This article examines how the visions, policies, expertise, and relationships from their colonial experiences were reconfigured in the 1950s through large-scale infrastructure projects into a new, postcolonial technical aid network linking the United States, Japan, and Southeast Asia during the Cold War. In addition to analyzing the reconstituted power relations at one particular site, this article also examines Japan’s unique position as a major donor and receiver of foreign aid, thereby complicating conventional narratives of an advanced “West” assisting a developing Asia.