Transport Infrastructure Development and Chinese Geopolitics

The seminar will discuss the transport infrastructure development and Chinese geopolitics. It will particularly look into the geopolitical implications of China’s Belt and Road Initiative and Aerial Silk Roads with the construction of international airports in China.

Presenter: Weiqiang Lin

Title: Airport as Geopolitical Pawns: Aerial Silk Roads, Automated Technologies and Pandemic Woes

This paper reimagines China’s new international airports as symbolic geopolitical pawns, rather than functional infrastructures used solely for the mediation of global flows of people and goods. In particular, it charts through the recent history of three major developments (Beijing Daxing, Chengdu Tianfu and Zhengzhou Xinzheng) that have sprouted across the country between 2016 and 2021. The paper highlights the competitive motivations driving the construction of these infrastructures, as well as the ways in which automated technologies are being deployed to coordinate mass mobilities. The paper argues that the explosion of airport construction in China must be seen as deeply rooted in geopolitical grandiosity of aerial Silk Roads and inter-city rivalry. At the same time, the paper is reflexive of the paradox of gleaming airports partially laid waste by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Presenter: Jinghan Zeng

Title: Geopolitical implications of Belt and Road Initiative

China’s Belt and Road Initiative has been widely viewed as a top down geopolitical strategy of Beijing to reshape regional and global order. This talk will discuss why Belt and Road Initiative is an overarching slogan that is open for interpretation. Given the critical role of local, subnational and international actors in shaping Belt and Road Initiative, it would not necessarily unfold according to Beijing’s design. As such, geopolitical implications of Belt and Road Initiative will be complicated and often unintended.