Centralizing Peripheries: Infrastructure, Development, and New Markets between Nepal and China

Authors: Nadine Plachta*, South Asia Institute
Topics: Development, Political Geography, Asia
Keywords: Infrastructure development, trade, border markets, informal economies, Nepal, China
Session Type: Paper
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


In recent decades, targeted development support has transformed the lives of Nepal’s northern borderland communities. Bilateral agreements between the Nepali and Chinese governments specifying economic cooperation and financial assistance have facilitated the building of roads and transport corridors to expand commerce, while hydropower projects and cross-border transmission lines are planned and imagined as expedient technological solutions for driving economic growth. The increased Chinese commitment to infrastructural advancement has led to the emergence of development zones across northern Nepal, some branded as special economic zones and others considered informal spaces of production. The borderland is of strategic value, and governing it has become central for the state-building projects of both China and Nepal. It requires laws and special regulations for investment, economic production, resource management, and the movement of people and goods, as security concerns remain high and state control and feelings of belonging are in sharp relief with one another.

Focusing on the shifting economic geographies of traders and businessmen within these infrastructural transitions and reorientations in northern Nepal, I address several key concerns: How do people engage with, resist, or support the new bodies of law and authority that come with the making of development zones and infrastructural expansion? What are the stories of success and failure within these emerging rural markets? How do changing entrepreneurial opportunities affect future investment and planning? In answering these questions, I consider how the Nepal-China borderlands have become productive spaces at the geographical margins, but are also imbued with frictions and conflicting interests.

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