China’s Frontier: Institutions, Infrastructure and Landscapes in New Silk Road Nations

China’s Frontier: Institutions, Infrastructure and Landscapes in New Silk Road Nations

Funded through the Global Challenges Research Fund (GCRF) Fell highlight notice

Potential Partner organisation

China’s One Belt, One Road (OBOR), branded as a regional integration project, represents up to $1 trillion investment in energy, transport, industry and business development across the Central Asia steppes, over Himalayan mountain passes, and covering the length of Pakistan to the Karachi and Gwadar ports in the Arabian Sea. Our proposed research programme focuses on the multiple ways in which this ‘New Silk Road’ is transforming landscapes, institutions and infrastructure in Mongolia, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, and Pakistan. We seek to understand the unique Chinese strategic vision and implications of development in its bordering states. The greater region faces rapid infrastructure development, historic issues of unequal regional economic distribution, rural and minority populations, fragile arid and semi-arid ecosystems, and internal challenges to governance and national stability. The scale of OBOR projects not only indicates a shift in regional geo-politics, but has intensified many of the stresses these countries face. Our programme aims to work with stakeholders in each country to undertake impact-led research in an effort to understand how OBOR projects at the inter-regional and local scale are motivated, managed and governed within the natural and social landscape.

The questions which motivate our interdisciplinary research are divided into several potential research streams:

  1. Institutions and Governance: To what extend are established governance frameworks and bureaucracies impacted by major program investments in infrastructure? How do institutions and policies interact with external interests and investment? What are the roles of minorities, migration, borders, corruption and related factors in a changing socio-economic context? Do post-Soviet and post-colonial legacies impact current development trajectories? What is the role of borderlands in New Silk Road contexts?
  2. Livelihoods: How do New Silk Road infrastructures factor into changing household and community level organization? Are there contrasts and conflicts between rural and urban interests and action? How are livelihoods considered within Chinese-led investment strategies? How do decision-making and power dynamics influence individual and local benefit? How are rural livelihoods, such as pastoralism, affected by infrastructure land grabs and shared resource uses (i.e. water)?
  3. Infrastructure: How are infrastructure decisions made, managed, and implemented; to what extent do major projects have a capacity-building role? Are local voices considered in regional infrastructure development? What are risks associated with infrastructure investment? Can related development transform electoral politics, institutions and security?
  4. Landscape: To what extent are climate and environmental conditions considered in infrastructure projects? How do natural hazards in extreme landscapes affect pre- and post-project viability? Will water scarcity in the arid region limit potential benefits and cause livelihood and institutional risk? Will increasing development decrease/increase landscape productivity? Does infrastructure address environmental challenges or exacerbate geographical barriers?
  5. Economics and Investment: Who invests in fragile political, economic and physical environments and for what purpose? How do peripheral economies and precarious states attract infrastructure investments? Does foreign-directed development transform governance, political practices and livelihoods? What are economic priorities and drivers in China’s marginal border nations?
  6. UK: What is the UK’s interest in the New Silk Road? Can Britain play a role in security, management, development and regional stability? Will shared research platforms benefit both UK and local institutions and capacity?


CPEC Pakistan – February 2017
Central Asian Networks – April 2017
CPEC Conference 19 May
Knowledge Exchange 7 June- Environmental Security and Risk
4th Oxford Desert Conference – June 8-9, 2017

Further Information

Contact Richard Baxter.