Elevated Tensions: Contested Chinese Influence in the Construction of the Hanoi Metro

Authors: Timothy Karis*, University of Florida
Topics: Development, Urban and Regional Planning, China
Keywords: infrastructure, development, transportation, China, Vietnam
Session Type: Virtual Paper
Day: 4/8/2021
Start / End Time: 11:10 AM / 12:25 PM
Room: Virtual 46
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


The growing economic and geopolitical influence of “Global China” has generated anxieties and pushback from Vietnamese officials and citizens, with responses ranging from policy debates to journalistic critiques to rare public demonstrations against Chinese companies leasing land and doing business in the country. One ongoing source of tension involves a series of ambitious infrastructure projects currently under construction in Hanoi and spearheaded by Chinese investment and expertise, most prominently an elevated urban railway (Hanoi Metro) meant to ease the city’s chronic congestion and showcase its recent developmental strides. This paper adds to scholarly understandings of Global China’s developmental apparatus by moving beyond visions of unchecked ambition and influence to demonstrate the frictions—and their potential consequences—that emerge alongside the changing built environment in strategically targeted locales. Specifically, it examines official and popular reactions to the urban railway’s budget, timetable, and design through the lens of the historically fraught relationship between the two countries. Looming visibly over the city in an incomplete state and inviting evaluation, the Hanoi Metro project shows how the promise of delivering modern, sustainable urban infrastructure as a public good runs up against forms of critique and contestation in Vietnam reserved specifically for the perceived threat of domination from the north.

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