1st Edition

The Belt and Road Initiative as Epochal Regionalisation

By Xiangming Chen, Julie Tian Miao, Xue Li Copyright 2021
    92 Pages 22 Color Illustrations
    by Routledge

    The Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), launched by China in 2013, carries and projects powerful regional dimensions and transformations, with short- and long-term global, national and local consequences. The BRI’s regional significance lies in its designation and creation of several cross-border corridors that originate from inside China and extend out into its neighbouring countries, and those farther afield in Asia, Africa and Europe. Through driving and facilitating new trade and infrastructure connections along and beyond these corridors, the BRI has begun to reshape the master processes of globalisation, urbanisation and development by affecting the economic, social and spatial fortunes of many countries and cities.

    This book serves two purposes. First, through a new framework and three case studies, it examines the BRI’s impacts on globalisation, urbanisation and development via the China-Europe Freight Train, the paired construction of a new city and railway across the China-Laos borderland and the port-park-city development corridor between Djibouti and Ethiopia. Second, the comparative analysis and evidence guide the book to advance policy recommendations for targeted stakeholders that can potentially turn the BRI into a global public good with greater benefits and fewer risks.

    Foreword 1

    Preface 3

    Authors 5

    Acknowledgements 7

    Abbreviations 9

    Executive summary 11

    1. The BRI and regionalisation 15

    1.1 Introduction 16

    1.2 The BRI as new regionalisation 18

    1.3 The BRI from China’s regional perspective 24

    1.4 How to unpack the BRI’s regional impacts 26

    1.5 Summary 28

    2. The BRI and globalisation 29

    2.1 Introduction 30

    2.2 Shifting globalisation and China’s importance 30

    2.3 The West- versus China-led globalisations 32

    2.4 Regional corridors’ connective global impact:

    The China–Europe Freight Train (CEFT) 36

    2.4.1 Connections and growth 37

    2.4.2 Xi’an’s resurgence as a hub 39

    2.5 Summary and policy recommendations 43

    3. The BRI and urbanisation 45

    3.1 Introduction 46

    3.2 The BRI’s infrastructure reach and power 46

    3.3 China’s urbanisation: infrastructure as the key 47

    3.4 Building out: Borten on the China–Laos border 50

    3.4.1 A new city as embedded infrastructure 51

    3.4.2 An ambitious railway as connective infrastructure 54

    3.5 In the shadow of infrastructure-led urbanisation 57

    3.6 Summary and policy recommendations 59

    4. The BRI and development 61

    4.1 Introduction 62

    4.2 Recasting development: aligning the United Nations’

    Development Goals and the BRI 62

    4.3 Building Africa’s industrial landscape 64

    4.3.1 The "Port-Park-City" mode of development:

    from Shekou to Djibouti 66

    4.3.2 China-driven zone-centric mode of development

    in Ethiopia 71

    4.3.3 Unlocking landlocked exports through the Addis

    Ababa-Djibouti railway 75

    4.4 Summary and policy recommendations 76

    5. A synthesis and looking forward 79

    5.1 Introduction 80

    5.2 From a single initiative to a synergistic force 80

    5.3 Can the BRI become a regional and a global public good? 81

    Appendix A: The bottom billion lag and BRI countries by income levels 83


    Xiangming Chen served as the founding Dean and Director of the Center for Urban and Global Studies at Trinity College in Connecticut from 2007 to 2019. He is Paul E. Raether Distinguished Professor of Global Urban Studies and Sociology at Trinity College and a guest professor at Fudan University, Shanghai. He has published extensively on urbanization and globalization with a focus on China and Asia and conducted policy research for the World Bank, the Asian Development Bank, OECD and UNCTAD.


    Julie Tian Miao is a Senior Lecturer in Property and Economic Development in the University of Melbourne and also an honorary Research Fellow in Shanghai Jiaotong and Henan Universities, China. Dr Miao studied economic geography and planning at the University College London. Her research has been developed along two innovative fields on the ‘intrapreneurial state’ and at the interface between housing, labor and the knowledge economy. She has published widely on these themes and conducted policy research for the Chinese Ministry of Land and Resources Management, Scottish Cities Alliance in the UK and the Victorian Government in Australia.

    Xue Li is an Associate Professor in the Department of Sociology at Fudan University. Her research interests are in political sociology, social inequality and stratification, and global analysis. Her current projects involve social consequences of the fiscal reform, and how economic globalization reshapes social inequality in China. Her research work has been published in American Sociological Review, Social Sciences of China, and other peer-reviewed journals.

    “The global pandemic of COVID-19 has triggered such significant questions as ‘where globalisation is headed and who will lead the next stage of globalisation’. Through skilfully executed case studies of China’s growing nexuses with Europe, Asia and Africa, The Belt and Road Initiative as Epochal Regionalisation offers a timely look into how the BRI is reshaping globalisation, urbanisation and development via new cross-regional logistics connectivity, infrastructure-led city-building and special zone-induced industrialisation from China’s borderlands to far-flung places. The comparative analysis guides the book to propose policy recommendations for all stakeholders interested in promoting more inclusive globalisation, balanced urbanisation and sustainable development.”

    Zhigao Liu, Associate Research Fellow, Institute of Geographic Sciences and Natural Resources Research, Chinese Academy of Sciences


    “This book provides important fresh insights into the implications of China’s Belt and Road Initiative for the master processes of globalisation, urbanisation and development amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. The Initiative’s regional impact is illustrated by critical case studies of the China-Europe Freight Train, the new town development in Borten on the China-Laotian border and port-rail developments in Ethiopia-Djibouti. Then significant lessons pertaining to connectivity, infrastructure and sustainability are drawn from these case studies to gauge the full effects of China’s policy-making.”

    Emeritus Professor Peter J. Rimmer AM, School of Culture, History and Language, ANU College of Asia and the Pacific, Australian National University, Canberra, Australia.