13 Apr 2018

OBORed out of business: Economic corridors and the end of proximity

Talk at the workshop "From Bactrian Camels to the Belt Road—Historical and Contemporary Ruminations on China’s Westward Pivot," University of Arkansas

Alessandro Rippa


The China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), linking up Xinjiang with the Arabian Sea at Gwadar, is expected to be a "game-changer" for Pakistan's economy. In China's south-western Yunnan province, the Bangladesh-China-India-Myanmar (BCIM) economic corridor promises to revive old forms of connectivities across the region: from the so-called "southern Silk Road" to the Stilwell road, built by Allied troops during World War Two. While both projects feature prominently in Xi Jinping's signature project, the "One Belt, One Road" Initiative, neither is particularly new. The BCIM dates back to the Kunming Initiative of 1999, while the CPEC goes back to the early 2010s, when Gwadar made the headlines as China's new deep-sea port and Special Economic Zone. Following the development of both projects over the past decade, this paper draws some preliminary reflections over the effects of economic corridors on local trade. It argues that, despite claims of inclusiveness and "win-win" outcomes, such projects often achieve the opposite result: excluding local businesses from profiting in any way from large-scale investment in trans-national connectivity. In Xinjiang, security concerns made it nearly impossible for Uyghur traders to carry out cross-border trade with Pakistan and Central Asia. In Yunnan, a stricter border regime is favouring outside, well-connected elites, over local traders. I argue that the corridor-ization of trade along China's frontiers has brought to the end of what I call proximity: the advantages intrinsic to a certain geographical, but also cultural and historical closeness that used to afford business opportunities to local communities.

Highland Asia Research Group
LMU, Social and Cultural Anthropology, Oettingenstr. 67
80538 Munich, Germany
martin.saxer@lmu.de | +49 89 2180 9639

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