CE22 - Sociétés urbaines, territoires, constructions et mobilité

The Cities of the New Silk Road in Southeast Asia – VinoRosa

Submission summary

The Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), the ambitious development strategy adopted by China in 2013, has already received a great deal of attention in the field of economy and political science. In contrast, research concerning its urban implications is still scarce, mainly because the majority of the BRI-related urban initiatives are still in the pipelines. VinoRosa aims to open up a promising avenue of investigation, by questioning the BRI's role as a development lever that contributes to the internationalization of secondary cities in continental Southeast Asia that are concerned by its development corridors. The BRI is expected to have a significant impact on these cities, whose emerging urban dynamics heavily depend on international assistance and cooperation programs. VinoRosa closely looks at the performative role of two competing discourses that underpin the BRI as a whole - the first drawing on sustainable urban development and the second on principles of economic growth triggered by investments - that guide the elaboration of urban policies, plans, development programs, and real estate investments tactics.
Our three research hypotheses are framed within a broader reflection concerning the rise of transnational Chinese actors in the urban shaping of Southeast Asian cities:
1. The localization of urban knowledge, models and modes of urbanization that circulate between China and Southeast Asia depend on a wide range of specificities concerning each city and recipient country. Furthermore, the BRI catalyses inter-urban cooperations that contribute to the emergence of urban models and participate to regional construction at the scale of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.
2. The rise of Chinese urban actors renegotiate power balances and generate new sociopolitical and economic equilibrium that foster the multiplication of the arenas of decision-making, as well as the formation of competing coalitions of urban actors.
3. Urban planning and development rationalities drawing on developmentalist and neoliberal ideologies rearrange urban space so that flows of capitals, goods, and people can be efficiently managed, articulated, and dispatched.
Our research team brings together seven geographers, architects, and urban planners who are specialized in Southeast Asia and China. They will jointly develop a relational comparative approach giving account of the specificities of the urban trajectoires of five secondary cities: Chiang Mai (Thailand) ; Haiphong, (Vietnam); Mandalay (Burma); Melaka (Malaysia), and Sihanoukville (Cambodia).
Our research methodology combines critical discourse analysis, the anthropology of development, social geography, as well as architectural and urban morphology. Our investigations are conducted at the transnational, regional, and local scales. Specific measures are provided (e.g. constant monitoring and following-up with all BRI-related projects in the urban field in Southeast Asia, through secondary sources) in order to deal with two foreseeable risks: the BRI’s interactions with other development levers, including regional integration programs, development assistance, and foreign investments; the uncertainties that still surround the content of the Chinese strategy, that may lead to abandon some projects, but also to launch new ones.
VinoRosa’s global impact is threefold: 1. question the specificities of sustainable development and smart urbanization as implemented in China, as well as the modalities of the transfer and adaptation of such models in Southeast Asian cities; 2. produce critical knowledge on the modes and rationalities of urban shaping and development triggered by the BRI that may help the design of urban plans and governmental tools for cities located along development corridors ; 3. contribute to the renewal of urban and area-based research, by questioning the role of the intensification of international circulations in the shaping of secondary cities.

Project coordination

Adèle ESPOSITO (Institut de Recherche sur l'Asie du Sud-Est Contemporaine)

The author of this summary is the project coordinator, who is responsible for the content of this summary. The ANR declines any responsibility as for its contents.


IRASEC Institut de Recherche sur l'Asie du Sud-Est Contemporaine

Help of the ANR 300,672 euros
Beginning and duration of the scientific project: December 2019 - 48 Months

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