Bearing the brunt: The social impact of the Belt and Road Initiative’s infrastructure projects on the local communities in Myanmar

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Dokumentart: Article
Date: 2023-11
Language: English
Faculty: 6 Wirtschafts- und Sozialwissenschaftliche Fakultät
Department: Politikwissenschaft
DDC Classifikation: 320 - Political science
330 - Economics
Other Keywords:
Belt and Road Initiative
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Since its unveiling in October 2013 by Chinese President Xi Jinping, the bulk of research on the Chinese Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) has dealt with the development of Chinese-sponsored and Chinese-built physical infrastructures, its economic consequences, such as the inflow of foreign direct investments (FDIs) into partner countries, often developing ones, and its geopolitical implications. Due to its unique geographical location on the eastern coast of the Bay of Bengal connecting the Chinese landlocked province of Yunnan with the Indian Ocean, Myanmar has long been playing a pivotal role in the BRI. Although recognizing how the BRI can positively impact Myanmar’s economic growth, this work moves away from the modernist understanding of infrastructures and, in line with the so-called “infrastructural turn”, acknowledges the negative societal externalities that infrastructural development inadvertently brings about. Taking a bottom-up approach and building on Mark Overland and Vakulchuk (2020), this study argues that the Chinese physical infrastructures’ construction phase and everyday functioning have been entailing negative social impacts and that these have been disproportionately born by the Myanmar local communities, especially land-dependent ones, whose lives and livelihoods were disrupted. To assess these negative social impacts, the article introduces interrelated concepts of infrastructural violence (Rodgers and O’Neill 2013) and infrastructural harm (Kallianos Dunlap, and Dalakoglou 2023). The latter will be applied to two BRI-funded infrastructure projects in Myanmar, namely the Myanmar-China Oil and Gas Pipelines and the Kyaukphyu Special Economic Zone (KP SEZ). The analysis shows that in both cases no sufficient compensation was provided to the affected local communities and ultimately makes a case for the development of non-exploitative infrastructures benefitting Myanmar’s overall population in the future.

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