Urban Projects along the Belt and Road Initiative in Yangon and Melaka: urban geopolitics in the age of transnational cooperation

Couverture Asie du Sud-Est 2021Adèle ESPOSITO

The cities located along the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) are imagined as nodes where different flows would converge and be (re)distributed. Southeast Asian tycoons endorse this vision: they strive to associate projects for new urban districts to the BRI, in order to improve the role of secondary cities in global urban rankings. I draw on two urban projects in Yangon and Melaka and examine the three-layered strategy that legitimates the association with the BRI. This strategy involves discourses, financial arrangements, and actors’ networks. It is subject to readjustments in response to local, national, and international contestations against the global rise of China, its impacts on international security, and the balance of power. In this light, the specificity of BRI-related urban projects appears to be their entanglement with geopolitical rationales, which determines their prestige but also the volatility of the sociopolitical arrangements that underpin their implementation.

Keywords: Belt and Road Initiative, secondary cities, urban geopolitics