Speculating Belt and Road: The Role of Brokers in Chinese Overseas Capitalism in Laos

Authors: Kelly Wanjing Chen*, University of Wisconsin-Madison
Topics: China, Economic Geography, Immigration/Transnationalism
Keywords: China, brokerage, Southeast Asia, One Belt One Road
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/11/2018
Start / End Time: 5:20 PM / 7:00 PM
Room: Bacchus, Marriott, River Tower Elevators, 4th Floor
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


Since its debut in 2013, the Belt and Road Initiative has been attracting worldwide attention, mostly to its related dynamics at high level. The singularity of existing analytical effort projects the unfolding of ‘Belt and Road’ as coherent processes engineered by Chinese-state, which underplays a streams of other actors’ role in co-manufacturing the materiality of the initiative. Taking an ethnographic approach to examine how capital accumulated within mainland China was poured into Laos after the announcement of the initiative, this paper highlights the ways in which a series of individuals position themselves into the ‘Belt and Road’ initiative, and mediate outpouring capital under their own interpretation of the policy framework. By stitching together transnational networks through cultural, ethnical and institutional proximity, these brokers are the de facto producer of the Belt and Road on the ground. Their contextual improvisation of the policy, however, have resulted in multi-directional dynamics within the landscape of Chinese capitalism in Laos, many of which are contradictory to state’s original design for ‘One Belt One Road’. By detailing the brokerage activities undertaken by actors ranging from ethnic Chinese to Lao state officials, this paper intends to show the highly de-centred nature of contemporary Chinese capitalism and de-stable the conventional notion of ‘Belt and Road’ as a pure 'Chinese' project.

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