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26 JAN 2021 (TUE) 10:35-10:55

Sustainable development with Chinese characteristics? Ecocivilization going out and the Green Belt and Road Initiative

Via Zoom

Ms LIU Xiaofeng PhD Student, Department of Geography, HKU


In 2013, the Chinese government launched the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), building on over a decade of a strategy of “going out” and expanding its investment overseas. Soon afterward, in response to controversies over the BRI’s environmental impacts and out of a desire to render infrastructure development under the initiative more sustainable, the government proposed the Green BRI. This endeavor serves as an international counterpart to China’s domestic policy of building an “ecological civilization” (ecocivilization). Although many studies examine the sustainability of projects under the BRI, China’s pursuit of environmental governance has not yet been fully scrutinized. Addressing how China is advancing both the Green BRI and the distinctly Chinese norm of ecocivilization is important, however, as such research can demonstrate the ways in which China’s environmental and ecological governance within its sovereign territory are being scaled up and exported beyond its borders, and how these practices differ from those of other international actors. From this point of departure, the proposed research will critique the Green BRI in countries within the Mekong region through the lens of energy and transportation infrastructure projects in order to address how the Green BRI is being negotiated and instantiated by various state and non-state actors. Theoretically, this study will integrate concepts from environmentality and territoriality to analyse how nature, power, and space intertwine with each other under the auspices of the Green BRI. Methodologically, the research will rely upon fieldwork consisting of interviews and participant observation, archival documents, and geospatial data. The first stage of the study will involve geospatial analysis to visualize the distribution and characteristics of projects involving the Chinese state and enterprises in the six Mekong countries. Next, critical discourse analysis will be performed to address how the Chinese government and civil society mobilize other actors, exercise power, and territorialize space. In addition, using the China-Laos railway as a case study, an environmental assessment will be conducted to identify differences between Chinese domestic and overseas infrastructures and seek explanations from their implementing contexts. The research will reveal both the discourses and practices of ecocivilization – what might be thought of as sustainable development with Chinese characteristics – through the specific contexts of the Green BRI and within the Mekong region. Taken together, this study promises to shed light on the environmental norms, policies, and practices of a global China and provide new insights into theories in political geography on governance beyond sovereign territory.

Keywords: Belt and Road Initiative (BRI); Green Belt and Road; infrastructure; environment; sustainable development; China; Mekong

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