This is one of the papers presented in the panel “Changing Landscapes in China’s Border Regions” organized by Xiaobo Su, Galen Murton and You-tien Hsing. The programme of the AAG Annual Meeting 2016 will be out in February.
This paper explores old and new connectivities along today’s Karakoram Highway, across the China-Pakistan border. Particularly, through various examples collected during fieldwork carried out in both Gilgit-Baltistan and Xinjiang between 2012 and 2013, I show how China’s growing influence is perceived and discussed across the borders of the People’s Republic. In places like the Hunza valley, which share a long and complex history of imperial relations with China, the PRC renewed engagement in development and infrastructural investments, does not only evoke promises and expectations, but also doubts and fears. The overall argument posits that remote areas are not simply isolated and backward, as development rhetoric often seems to imply. Gilgit-Baltistan in particular, despite its political and economic marginality, is placed at the juncture of old trade routes, and its inhabitants are thus able to produce nuanced discussions and views, which are usually ignored or unheard of at the centre. In order to explore this apparent contradiction I use the seemingly obvious notion of proximity. Intended as geographical, but also cultural, and historical, I argue that it is in this proximity that nuanced views of China’s investments in the area are produced, and the PRC’s new role in Asia and the world is discussed and understood.