China´s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) is said to be aimed at generating both economic gains, but also political ones by tying recipients of Chinese investments closer to Beijing. But does investing in infrastructure projects generate increased political influence? ROADS seeks to answer this question by combining systematic analyses of China´s investments in infrastructure projects in different regions with in-depth analyses of the political dynamics of infrastructure investments in specific countries. We will assess the political effects of infrastructure investments (roads, trains, dams, digital) by analysing the pre-existing relationship between China and the countries where they invest, as well as attributes of the infrastructure investments themselves. The project has thus far established an overview of relevant literature and empirical findings, allowing us to identify propositions to be tested and explored empirically. Findings thus far indicate that infrastructure investments can both improve and worsen political relationships between China and recipients of investments. It depends on the political views of China in the host country, political cleavages that can be exploited domestically, and also how the US may seek to restrict or outbid Chinese investments. It also matters how the infrastructure investments are managed and perceived in the host country. It may benefit economic and political elites, for example, but not yield any clear benefits to the broader public. The ambition is to arrive at a more nuanced understanding of the BRI and China´s efforts to wield power globally, and to identify the factors that strengthen or undermine BRI and China.
Does investing in roads and railroads produce political power? Rather than focusing on systemic factors such as polarity, on assumed security interests, or on strategies such as revisionism, ROADS approaches this question by analyzing the conditions under which Chinese infrastructure projects under the BRI may yield increased political power over others. Drawing on recent advances in the study of the toolbox of power-political competition, and with a strong team combining area-expertise with theoretical innovation, ROADS conducts comparative analysis of the political effects of infrastructure projects in different countries. Zooming in on China´s role in building high-speed railways (HSR) in Laos, Myanmar, Malaysia and Indonesia, the project will produce robust case-studies of how such projects affect political relations with China. In so doing, we aim to offer a more granular understanding of the effects of infrastructure projects on political dynamics in Southeast Asia. On this basis, the project aims to identify causal mechanisms at work, explain the variation in effects of infrastructure projects, and contribute to broader debates, first, about the evolving character of power-political competition, and second, the character and possible changes in political orders in Asia and beyond.