In 2013, Chinese president Xi Jinping officially charted the idea of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) during an official visit to Kazakhstan. From mines to railways, China embarked in a large number of infrastructure projects to enhance land and maritime trade connectivity. There was never a clear target in terms of the amount of investments needed for the BRI to be successful, though official estimates hovered between 4 and 8 trillion USD.
During the highly intense four-days of the 5th Plenum of the CPC Central Committee (26th - 29th October), the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) was certainly not at the centre of the debate.
With the resignation of Prime Minister Abe, the future of Japan’s Free and Open Indo-Pacific strategy has been called into question. Abe was indeed one of the key architects of this vision and he devoted enormous energy to flesh it out. For sure, his successor, Suga Yoshihide, will have his hands full with domestic issues, from tackling the COVID-related economic crisis to implementing daunting structural reforms.
After 6-years of rapid development, China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) has entered a new era in terms of quality development. In this grand picture, cities acting as sub-state actors along the BRI, have gained new momentum for displaying geographic significance and economic attractiveness. This paper intends to define cities’ role in the joint promotion of BRI, exemplify how cities will prosper in the process and explore new opportunities of investment after the COVID-19 pandemic.
By 2050, 68% of the world’s population is expected to live in cities, with almost 90% of the growth in urban population happening in Asia and Africa. Facing rapid urbanization, governments are increasingly adopting smart city initiatives as solutions for achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), especially SDG 11-Sustainable Cities and Communities. ICT-based urban management has the potential to maximize the benefits of agglomeration, while minimizing negative impacts like pollution.
Most countries along the BRI are developing countries and emerging economies. They account for 31 percent of the global GDP, but constitute about 62 percent of world’s population(1). At the same time, the ecological environment is very fragile, due to the distribution of most of the global biodiversity hotspots(2). 58 percent of the world’s deserts are also concentrated in this area(3). In a certain sense, the historical Silk Road is also an international transmission channel for dust and pollutants(4).
What is the role of Global Cities in BRI? Global Cities, the symbiotic parts of the ongoing process of globalization, were popularized as hegemonic geographic polarities by the seminal work of Saskia Sassen. Global cities are empowered as physical infrastructures that enable the hypermobility of capital and the tentacular growth of extraterritorial transnational corporations, on a planetary scale, in the background of progressive financialization of Northern economies that followed the 1970s oil crisis.
This paper focuses on the “culture of space” in China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). For «space» we intend the empty living environment, physical or virtual, private, semi-private or public, where people have mutual social interactions. This is a direct expression of a society’s culture.
ISPI’s Global Cities Programme published a dossier on African cities a year ago. This is the second such dossier focusing on a specific macro-region: in this case, the area covered by the “Belt and Road Initiative” (BRI). This notion is itself questionable as China’s flagship geopolitical strategy is a huge project, probably the largest in the word, but the borders, partners and budget remain uncertain. This makes it necessary to select specific issues to analyse the perspectives and challenges of cities in such a global framework.
What do China’s rise as a superpower and increasing global urbanization have in common? Looking at the long term, both trends will be defining features of the 21st century. Over the medium term, the Covid-19 pandemic bears unprecedented challenges both for China’s international role, and for urban communities around the world, struggling and learning to coexist with the virus.