Alvin Camba

Assistant Professor

  • Faculty

What I do

I study the political economy of development, examining how countries in the Global South pursue development in the context of China’s rise. 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. My new research projects explore three interrelated themes: (1) illicit capital; (2) maritime disputes and capital inflows; and (3) the cement-steel-infrastructure interface.


Political economy; development; political sociology; extractive politics; China-Southeast Asia

Professional Biography

I received my PhD in Sociology from the Johns Hopkins University. I am currently a faculty affiliate at the Climate Policy Lab and the the Center for International Environment & Resource Policy at the Fletcher School at Tufts University, the Sié Chéou-Kang Center for International Security & Diplomacy, and the Center for China-U.S. Cooperation at the Josef Korbel School.

I am a non-resident fellow at the Stratbase-Alberto Del Rosario Institute (ADRi), the Paramadina Public Policy Institute (PPPI), and WR Adivsory. I was previously a fellow at the Climate Policy Lab at Tufts University, Global Development Policy Center at Boston University, the Middle East Institute at the National University of Singapore, and the Asian Research Institute.

My research has been awarded multiple best research paper awards by several academic networks (International Studies Association, American Sociological Association, GRADNAS), has been published in top development and political economy journals (e.g., Review of International Political Economy, Development and Change, Energy Research and Social Science, etc.), and has contributed to widely-circulated think tank policy papers (e.g. Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, the International Republican Institute, and Center for International Private Enterprise) on China’s activities in Southeast Asia. I have been cited and/or interviewed by The Financial Times, Bloomberg, the Wall Street Journal, NPR, and other news outlets, and invited to speak at The World Bank, the US State Department, AidData, etc. I have briefed US ambassadors, members of congress, and corporate board members about China and Southeast Asia. I have also testified at the Philippine Senate and the Indonesia's People's Representative Council. I am regularly consulted by state institutions, embassies in Southeast Asia (US, Australia, UK, Japan, Singapore,etc.), and I have worked with tech firms on curbing disinformation.

Most recently, I am a part of the Carnegie Corporation of New York-funded Responsible Public Engagement project at the Korbel School. The project investigates, among others, China’s disinformation strategies and investments in rare earths.


  • Ph.D., Sociology, The Johns Hopkins University, 2021
  • MA, Sociology, Binghamton University, 2015
  • AB, Economy and Society, University College London, 2012

Professional Affiliations

  • American Sociological Association
  • International Studies Association
  • Eastern Sociological Association

Media Sources


I study how countries in the Global South pursue development in the context of China’s rise.

My first and ongoing book project develops the concept of the “Strong leader trap.” I argue that China – in this case, the Chinese Communist Party leadership and the key ministries - seeks and befriends “strong leaders” through major foreign direct investment (FDI) and development finance projects in hopes of securing protection for Chinese firms. This book project uncovers the unintended consequences of China's strategy of deliberately working with a "strong leader."

Second, working with the Climate Policy Lab at Tufts University, I am examining the “cement-steel-infrastructure” interface of the Belt and Road Initiative. I content that the literature on decarbonization and energy transitions focuses on the energy system but misses out on the complimentary industries that generate massive amounts of CO2 emissions and inextricably linked with the "infrastructure development” aspirations of many countries in the Global South. Here, I am looking at the domestic expansion of cement and the outward expansion of steel industries in the Global South that generate these emissions.

In my final project, I am looking at the long-term project on illicit capital. Specifically, through a variety of methods, I'm tracing money laundered out of China and into the offshore financial centers and then the Global South, often moving into “shady” sectors such as online gambling, wildlife smuggling, and land speculation. Apart from these, I have finished multiple projects related to Chinese capital inflows and the South China Sea, Chinese investments in key sectors - nickel mining, industrial parks, and real estate – as well as trace the transformation of elite politics in key Southeast Asian states.

Key Projects

  • Climate Policy Inventory for Malaysia and Philippines
  • The Strong Leader Paradox: How China's Global Investment Strategy Transforms Politics in Emerging Democracies

Featured Publications

Camba, A. J. A., Gomez, T., Khaw, R., & Cheong, K. -C. (2022). Strongmen politics and investment flows: China's investments in Malaysia and the Philippines. Journal of the Asia Pacific Economy.
Wijaya, T., & Camba, A. J. A. (2022). The politics of public-private partnerships: state-capital relations and spatial fixes in Indonesia and the Philippines. Territory, Politics, and Governance.
Camba, A. J. A., Cruz, J., Magat, J., & Tritto, A. (2021). Explaining the Belt and Road in the Philippines: Elite Consolidation, Construction Contracts, and Online Gambling Capital. In J. C. Liow, H. Liu, & G. Xue (Eds.), Research Handbook on the Belt and Road Initiative (pp. 138-150). Cheltenham, UK: Edward Elgar.
Camba, A. J. A. (2020). The sino-centric capital export regime: State-backed and flexible capital in the Philippines. Development and Change, 51(4), 970-997.


Camba, A. J. A. (2023). The Foreign Policy of Southeast Asian States toward China. RSIS Invited Lectures. Singapore: RSIS - NTU.
Camba, A. J. A. (2022). Examining Chinese Industrial Parks in Indonesia and Malaysia. Schwarzman Scholars Lecture Series. Beijing, China: Tsinghua University and Schwarzman Scholars Foundation.
Camba, A. J. A. (2022). Comparing the Philippines and Malaysia's Decarbonization Strategies: Politics, Policies, and Polity,. HKST Lecture Series. Hong Kong: PO Sustainability Seminar, Division of Environment and Sustainability & Hong Kong University of Science and Technology,.
Camba, A. J. A. (2022). How China responds to host country politics: elites, coalitions, and path dependence. GRIPS Foreign Expert Lecture Series. Tokyo, Japan: National Graduate Institute for Policy Studies.
Camba, A. J. A. (2022). The Philippine, US, and China. Office of Analytic Outreach in the Bureau of Intelligence & Research at the U.S. Department of State. Washington DC: xecutive Analytic Exchange on the Republic of the Philippines for Ambassador MaryKay Carlson.
Camba, A. J. A. (2022). Duterte and Chinese dam-builders. How to Make China Adapt to Local Needs,". Washington DC: Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.
Camba, A. J. A. (2022). A Situationer of China's Belt and Road Initiative in Southeast Asia. Econ Security Talks. Manila, Philippines: Foundation for National Interest and Friedrich Ebert Stiftung's EconSecurity Talks.
Camba, A. J. A. (2022). The Chinese Investment Paradox: Modes of Contestation and Enmeshment. Southeast Asian Studies Lecture Series. Singapore: Department of Southeast Asian Studies, Singapore.
Camba, A. J. A. (2022). Cement, Steel, and Infrastructure Interface: China's Export and Investment Boom in the Philippines. China Made Lecture Series. Boulder: CU Boulder Geography.
Camba, A. J. A. (2022). Chinese Cement and Steel Exports to Southeast Asia. Locking in a High-Carbon Future: Chinese Steel, Cement and Coal Investments at Home and Abroad. Washington DC: Wilson Center.


  • The 2022 Aileen San Pablo Baviera Prize, The Graduate Research and Development Network on Asian Security
  • 2022 Publication Award for Significant Contributions to Applied and Public Sociology, ASA section on Sociological Practice and Public Sociology
  • 2021 Elise Boulding Student Paper Award, , American Sociological Association’s Section on Peace, War, and Social Conflict.
  • 2021 Emerging Global South Scholar Award, International Studies Association
  • 2021 Terence K. Hopkins Best Graduate Student Paper Award, American Sociological Association’s Section on Political Economy of World-System (PEWS).