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Railroaded: The Financial Politics and the Labour Puzzle of Global China

Chinese labourers have been a persistent component of Beijing-sponsored infrastructure projects overseas. Going back to the socialist era, they participated in the construction of ideology-based aid projects such as the TAZARA railway in Tanzania and Zambia in the 1970s (Monson 2009). Today, as the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) unfolds, an increasing number of Chinese […]

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Chinese Energy Investment in Cambodia: Fuelling Industrialisation or Undermining Development Goals?

In early 2020, Cambodian authorities fast-tracked approval of two new coal plants. Soon after, they also signed a memorandum of understanding with the Lao Government committing to purchase energy imports from two proposed coal plants in southern Laos. This marked a significant shift in the evolution of Cambodia’s energy planning, from a model heavily dependent […]

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A Disappointing Harvest: China’s Opium Replacement Investments in Northern Myanmar Since 2009

The launch of the ‘Going Out’ strategy in 1999 precipitated more than a decade of rapid growth in Chinese outbound investment activity. From trivial levels in the late 1990s, Chinese outbound foreign direct investment (FDI) reached US$20 billion in 2006 before surging up to US$196 billion in 2016, according to data from the Ministry of […]

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Between Economic and Social Exclusions: Chinese Online Gambling Capital in the Philippines

Under Rodrigo Duterte’s administration, Chinese capital has increasingly flowed into the Philippines. Much of this new investment has been in online gambling firms—a peculiar type of capital that is not involved in the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) and is even criminalised by the Chinese state. Drawing from field research in Metro Manila, this essay interrogates the anti-Chinese sentiments among Filipinos that have been stoked by online gambling firms. In examining the broader social reverberations of Chinese capital on Philippine society, it argues that Chinese online gambling capital generates specific forms of economic and social exclusions.

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Contentious Embeddedness: Chinese State Capital and the Belt and Road Initiative in Indonesia

This essay employs Polanyi’s concept of ‘embeddedness’ to examine post-BRI Chinese investments in Indonesia. Using the case study of the Jakarta-Bandung high-speed railway, the article argues that key elements of this embeddedness can become active tools for policymakers to shape their strategy vis-à-vis Chinese investments. In particular, in the Indonesian context such elements include the deep-rooted anti-China sentiment, populist and protectionist tendencies, and the well-established presence of Japanese capital, in active competition with Chinese capital for influence in the country.

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The Thai Elections of 2019: The Rise of the Illiberal Middle Classes

In early 2019, Thailand’s military junta held elections for the first time since removing the elected Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra from office five years earlier. The elections took place under a new constitution, which gave the coup leader Prayuth Chan-ocha an insurmountable advantage. Ironically, some of Prayuth’s strongest supporters were the same middle classes that fought in the streets for democracy in the 1990s. The result is a Thai polity that can only be described as constitutional authoritarianism.

South Korea’s Progressive Turn

Two years have passed since disgraced former President Park Geun-hye was dismissed and President Moon Jae-in took office in Seoul. While South Korea’s newspapers remain filled with accounts of acrimonious encounters between opposing blocs of legislators and their supporters, a profound shift has occurred in the political order. For just about the first time in […]

A Road to Forgetting: Friendship and Memory in China’s Belt and Road Initiative

A new Sino-Kazakh coproduction recounts the time that celebrated Chinese musician Xian Xinghai spent in Kazakhstan in the early 1940s, focussing on the friendship between the artist and a local composer named Bakhitzhan Baykadamov. While the movie intends to celebrate the renewed friendship between China and the former Soviet republic under the auspices of Xi Jinping’s signature Belt and Road Initiative, it also serves a darker purpose: to obfuscate the reality of the mass detention of ethnic Uyghurs, Kazakhs, and Kyrgyz in ‘reeducation camps’ in Xinjiang.

Descending into Debt in Cambodia

Cambodia today is the site of one of the world’s largest microcredit sectors. While it is widely believed that the extension of microcredit to Cambodia’s poor should be cause for all-round celebration, this essay reveals disquieting evidence of a deeply problematic development intervention. Indebted to microcredit institutions, increasing numbers of Cambodia’s poor population have been forced to accept exploitative labour conditions in the garment and construction industry, driven to despair due to the loss of their land, and, in the worst cases, had no choice but to ‘sell’ themselves as bonded labour to brick kilns owners.

Chinese Digital Ecosystems Go Abroad: Myanmar and the Diffusion of Chinese Smartphones

Myanmar’s recent economic opening has prompted a dramatic upsurge in access to mobile phone and Internet technologies. Lower-cost smartphones finding their way across the border from China often have limited Burmese language support and come with WeChat and other Chinese apps preinstalled. This situation is resulting in a localised form of China’s digital ecosystem with Burmese characteristics.

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