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Managing the Belt and Road: Agency and development in Cambodia and Myanmar

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Original languageEnglish
Article number105297
JournalWORLD DEVELOPMENT
Volume141
Issue numberMay
DOIs
PublishedMay 2021

Bibliographical note

Funding Information: The authors are thankful to Ana Cristina Dias Alves, Gong Xue and Li Mingjiang and the participants to the workshop ?The Belt & Road Initiative: Impacts on Recipient Countries and Global Governance? held at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, Nanyang Technological University, Singapore; in particular we wish to thank Maria Adele Carrai and Yao Ying for helpful comments on an earlier draft. We also wish to thank two anonymous reviewers whose comments greatly helped us improve this study. Funding Information: This work was funded by the Overseas Development Institute and the United Nations. Publisher Copyright: © 2020 Elsevier Ltd Copyright: Copyright 2021 Elsevier B.V., All rights reserved.

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Abstract

Discussions on Chinese-financed and Chinese-built infrastructure projects, and more recently about the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), are often focused on China and fail to consider the role of the countries hosting these projects. Yet, host countries' dynamics are crucial to shaping the outcomes of BRI projects. This study investigates how the governments of developing countries in Southeast Asia leverage the BRI to achieve their own objectives. Through episode analysis based on literature and interviews conducted in Cambodia and Myanmar, we study the strategies deployed by these governments to influence the development of the BRI. We show that Cambodia uses strategies based on the principle of diversification, spreading infrastructure financing and implementation among a growing number of partners. We then show that the Myanmar government relies on impartiality to implement the proposed infrastructure projects and mitigate their risks. We link these strategies to the domestic contexts of Cambodia and Myanmar, discussing how these respond to the political setup of each country. This has important implications in terms of the narrative on the BRI, as it highlights the role of host country governments and of the domestic context in shaping outcomes. Our study fills a gap in the literature by providing a cross-country framework to understand how agency is deployed to achieve the desired outcomes in the context of the BRI, and more in general of infrastructure planning and implementation.

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