Assembling China’s Aid/Development Practice Through Mobile Policy ‘Sharing’ Of Chinese Special Economic Zones Along The Belt And Road


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The key research questions in this project are:

  • How do Chinese-funded SEZs, including Sihanoukville SEZ special economic zones (SEZ), shape patterns of urbanisation in Cambodia?
  • What are the economic, social and political impacts of Chinese-funded SEZs, including Sihanoukville SEZ special economic zones (SEZ), in Cambodia?
  • How has Chinese investment prioritised sectors to offer the potential to improve human development indicators and align to the Sustainable Development Goals?

The details

The deterioration of the relationship between the US and China has been termed the ‘new Global Cold War.’ As China’s economy is on track to become the largest in the world, the situation exhibits a novel territorial logic where China, and the US and its allies, compete to strategically integrate territory in ways that orients it towards value chains anchored by their domestic champions.

Special Economic Zones act as key ‘nodes’ along these global value chains. The Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) is a state-sponsored infrastructure development program unprecedented in both investment and global reach that responds to excess capacity and capital, and reduced demand for Chinese exports (Liu, Liu, and Schindler 2020).

Many SEZs become enclaves which offer few benefits to the city in which they are located. In this case, however, Chinese investment proposes to prioritize sectors that offer potential to improve human development indicators or align to the Sustainable Development Goals. SEZs are increasingly explained as a strategy to lead to the SDGs, in addition to their traditional economic objectives, in both Chinese and multilateral institutional policy.

Using Sihanoukville Special Economic Zone, Cambodia as the case study, this research will explore the emergence of a ‘softer’ (post-Washington consensus style) SEZ with Sustainable Development Goal objectives in the context of China’s Belt and Road policy and the ‘Second’ Global Cold War. Primarily engaging with policy mobilities, this research will seek to ground the geopolitics of the BRI and understand the social processes, actors and economic forces involved in the emergence of this SEZ as the policy voyages along the BRI to Cambodia.

The graduate researcher on this profile is: Hannah McNicol

Supervision team

First published on 27 June 2022.

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