From Space to the Polar Regions: New Frontiers in Studying China's Belt and Road Initiative

April 1, 2019 - 12:00 pm
Mia Bennett, Assistant Professor, Geography and Modern Languages and Cultures, University of Hong Kong
Mia Bennett

China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) is often described as one of the largest infrastructure projects in world history. The initiative spans over 70 countries and now even officially reaches into the Arctic region. Still, it is unclear whether the BRI is a vision, a blueprint, an already-existing reality, or something in between. Separating the BRI from China’s wider efforts to invest in global infrastructure is also challenging. Indeed, that is arguably part of BRI’s allure: as a flexible initiative without an official map, the BRI can be stretched to encompass projects that encounter success while those that fail can be left to fall off the map, so to speak. In light of these cartographic uncertainties, this talk will examine the BRI from two perspectives. First, she discussed how the BRI can be studied from space using remote sensing, specifically nighttime-light imagery. Second, drawing on methods in political geography, she discussed one under-researched component of the BRI: the “Polar Silk Road,” an Arctic shipping route that China seeks to develop with Russia to enhance trade between Asia and Europe. In short, this talk suggested new methods for examining the BRI at larger spatial and temporal scales and new theoretical approaches that emphasize a more environmentally sensitive political geography.

Mia Bennett is an assistant professor in the Department of Geography and School of Modern Languages and Cultures (China Studies Programme) at the University of Hong Kong. Her research examines the geopolitics of infrastructure development in the Arctic and areas within China's Belt and Road Initiative through fieldwork and remote sensing. She is founder and editor of the Cryopolitics blog and regularly freelances for publications such as The Maritime Executive

The Riding the Belt and Road Network is sponsored by the Vice Provost for Interdisciplinary Studies under the Duke Support for Interdisciplinary Graduate Networks (D-SIGN) Grant, and housed within the Duke University Energy Initiative.

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  • Belt Road Initiative at Duke