Infrastructural transformation in high-risk environments: The BRI’s impact on conflict states

Author: Pascal Abb (Peace Research Institute Frankfurt)

Ever since its announcement in 2013, China’s “Belt and Road Initiative” (BRI) has attracted significant attention from international observers, covering its impact on fields ranging from economic integration to geopolitics. However, the peace and security implications of the BRI have seen comparatively little interest, despite the heavy concentration of BRI-related investments in highly fragile and conflict-prone environments. (more…)

May 20, 2022

Skilled Migration to China and the BRI

Author: Eva Lena Richter (University of Cologne)

Since the Belt and Road Initiative’s (BRI) launch, strengthening people-to-people ties has been one of its cooperation priorities. This is implemented through a wide array of student and academic exchanges, research cooperation, joint vocational training, as well as tourism.[1] With the PRC government being the driving force of the BRI, China guides the way these exchanges – or forms of migration – develop between China and other BRI countries. To date, the majority of research on migration along the BRI focusses on Chinese nationals who emigrate to engage in economic activities, studies, or research in other BRI countries. But, as Pál Nyiri observed in his recent contribution to the Transformations blog, diverse factors influence these patterns of emigration. (more…)

April 13, 2022

‘Greening’ the BRI through Corporate Social Responsibility

Author: Trissia Wijaya (Asia Research Centre, Murdoch University)

Driven by the Going-out strategy and the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), Chinese companies have taken over the role of funding and constructing hydropower dams overseas. As of 2020, 320 overseas hydropower projects entailing Chinese involvement have either been completed or are underway – constituting 70 percent of the hydropower generation market outside China (National Energy Administration, 2019). While hydropower is viewed positively by the Chinese government as an alternative energy source which can effectively reduce emissions, Chinese companies working in this sector have been criticized for the wider distributional consequences, huge economic costs, and social issues that have accompanied its development. (more…)

April 2, 2022

Gendering the Multiple Imaginaries of the Belt and Road

Author: Yang Yang (National University of Singapore)

When the ancient Silk Road is presented as the precursor of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) in the Chinese government’s official narratives, images such as a caravan of turbaned travelers riding camels across a desert landscape are often deployed to evoke a romanticized transcontinental history of commerce and exchange. In most of these images, these unfamiliar travelers from exotic lands are obscured as outlines and blended into the contours of the desert backdrop. Alongside the land-based imaginaries of visitors from afar, other figures associated with sea-based imaginaries include Zheng He and his fleets that ventured from China to Southeast Asia, the Middle East, and the coast of East Africa over seven voyages between 1405-1433 CE. Both types of characters are represented as mobile Muslim men navigating vast stretches of land and sea to facilitate exchanges of commodities and knowledge. (more…)

February 25, 2022

Just add Infrastructure? Ambivalence towards BRI in Unremarkable Places

Author: Hasan H. Karrar (Lahore University of Management Sciences)

Cartographic representations of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) tend to be similar: they depict the Indian Ocean, the political map of Africa and Eurasia, and stark lines—representing economic corridors—with one end anchored in China. These resolute strokes intrigue me in how they stretch effortlessly across vast spaces and past large swathes of humanity with little regard for borders, terrain, or local political economy. The corridors are meant to pave the way for new infrastructure, long seen as the missing ingredient by cash-strapped regimes in the global South, as well as many in the global North. (more…)

February 2, 2022

BRI as a Set of Technological Platforms

Authors: Hallam Stevens (Nanyang Technological University in Singapore) and Ignacio Polo (University of Amsterdam)

Infrastructural turns

Declared in 2013, the People’s Republic of China’s One Belt, One Road (OBOR), was initially characterized as a development-cooperation programme emphasizing the construction and financing of traditional infrastructure for transportation and industry connecting Asia to Europe. Since then, the initiative has continued to expand in both scale and diversity, having been rebranded as the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). BRI projects now include funding for education, urban real estate and city development, digital technologies and “smart city” expertise, and even space exploration. The shifting and expanding character of the BRI — its “useful fuzziness” —  has led to a flurry of scholarly interest in infrastructure as a category of analysis. An “infrastructural turn” in the literature — partly attributable to the PRC’s increasing drive towards large infrastructural projects — now extends over and across territorial and disciplinary borders. (more…)

November 23, 2021

Belt & Road in Global Perspective Welcomes our New Postdoctoral Fellow

The Belt & Road in Global Perspective is delighted to welcome our new Postdoctoral Fellow, Dr. Stephen Smith! We invite you to learn more below about Dr. Smith’s research and his new role as part of the BRGP team. (more…)

October 26, 2021

Prefiguring China’s Digital Silk Road to Europe: Connecting Switzerland

Author: Lena Kaufmann (University of Zurich)

Since about 2015, the Digital Silk Road (DSR) has become an important component of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), making its way into major Chinese policy documents. In practice, however, the DSR, just like the overarching BRI, is not easy to define. On the one hand, the DSR has a tangible material base, which mostly remains invisible. This includes the fiber-optic networks, data centers, and smart cities built together with BRI’s energy and transport projects.[1] Fiber-optic networks enable digitalization, whilst supporting the financial services and communication which are fundamental to other BRI infrastructure projects. Yet, most people are unaware of the materiality of these digital infrastructures, assuming that our emails, text messages, online orders, financial transactions and social media posts are stored somewhere in “the cloud”.[2] This is not surprising, as most digital infrastructures are buried underground, in the ocean, or hidden in remote data centers. (more…)

October 19, 2021

Workshop Report: Conceptualizing the Belt and Road and its Effects

Our June workshop, Conceptualizing the ‘Belt and Road Initiative’ and its Effects, was the first of many conversations that our project aims to facilitate. We hope to continue growing our network, both inside and outside of the academy, between and across disciplinary, methodological, and national perspectives. 

For a summary of the key themes addressed in this workshop, see the attached report by Joseph McQuade, Associate Editor for our blog Transformations: Downstream Effects of the BRI:


September 27, 2021

Geopolitical gravity and blanks on the BRI map; or why what is missing really matters

Author: Galen Murton (James Madison University)

When thinking about the “downstream effects of the BRI,” Nepal comes quickly to mind. As both a hydrological basin of great rivers descending from Himalayan massifs and the Tibetan Plateau and a site of widespread infrastructure development significantly financed by Beijing, much moves from China into Nepal. Flows of water and synthetic garments; capital investment and political alliances – Chinese stuff is increasingly ubiquitous throughout Nepal. In no uncertain terms, the Belt and Road has accelerated the movement of these things – commodities and ideologies, energy and power. However, it is not the BRI as physical infrastructure that gets things done in Nepal; rather, like so many places elsewhere, the BRI instead functions as an instrument with discursive force, an imaginary that underwrites promises of modernity and motivates particular political activity. (more…)

July 20, 2021