Briefing Paper

China-driven Port Development: Lessons from Kenya and Malaysia

Access to ports underlie many countries’ plans to expand trade. Over the past two decades, China has emerged as a major funder and builder of ports. This appeals to governments in the Global South, while also serving Beijing’s focus on connectivity via the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). However, such projects often exact a steep environmental and socio-economic toll, while the massive budgets involved can challenge governance mechanisms. These dangers are exacerbated when ports are embedded in development zones. This policy briefing examines the environmental, socio-economic and governance (ESG) impacts of two major Chinese-funded and -built port projects in Kenya and Malaysia. It shows that both had significant environmental impacts. The projects’ championing by their respective governments over more pragmatic and less impactful alternatives also demonstrate the governance challenges related to such megaprojects.