China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), the flagship project of Xi Jinping’s administration, is being promoted as a global strategy for regional integration and infrastructure investment. With a projected US$1 trillion commitment from Chinese financial institutions, and more than sixty countries participating, the BRI is attracting intense international interest in government and policy circles. Yet most analysis to date focuses on the broad drivers, risks, and opportunities of the BRI, which are largely viewed as emanating from a coherent policy imposed by Beijing. In this special issue, we instead examine the BRI as a relational, contested process - a bundle of intertwined discourses, policies, and projects that sometimes align and are sometimes contradictory. We seek to move beyond policy-level analysis and abstractions to study the BRI ‘from the ground’, both in our methodological approaches and in our focus on specific projects. These case studies, we argue, reveal the BRI to be dynamic and unstable, rhetorically appropriated for different purposes that sometimes gain credence as a coherent strategy. The papers in this special issue, ranging in focus from Southeast Asia to Africa, examine three interrelated themes: political economy, social lives, and discursive practices. Together, they provide the first collection of empirical work on the BRI and a useful approach for grounding China’s role in globalization in complex local realities.
Galen Murton, Marie S. Curie Fellow, Institute for Social and Cultural Anthropology, Ludwig Maximilian University Munich
Alessandro Rippa, Postdoctoral Fellow, Center for Asian Studies, University of Colorado Boulder
Gustavo de L. T. Oliveira, Assistant Professor, International Studies, University of California, Irvine
Tyler Harlan, Postdoctoral Fellow, Atkinson Center for a Sustainable Future and Department of Development Sociology, Cornell University
Yang Yang, PhD Candidate, Department of Geography, University of Colorado, Boulder