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Rivers of Iron: Railroads and Chinese Power in Southeast Asia

October 21, 2020


Selina Ho, Assistant Professor and Chair of the Master in International Affairs Program, Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, National University of Singapore

Cheng-Chwee Kuik, Associate Professor and Head of the Centre for Asian Studies, Institute of Malaysian and International Studies (IKMAS), National University of Malaysia (UKM)

David M. Lampton, Senior Research Scholar, Foreign Policy Institute and Professor Emeritus of China Studies, Johns Hopkins SAIS.  

The discussion was moderated by Andrew C. Mertha, Dean of the Faculty and the George and Sadie Hyman Professor and Director of the China Studies Program, Johns Hopkins SAIS

The school hosted a discussion with three authors speaking about their new book, “Rivers of Iron,” which looks in detail at one aspect of China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), an ambitious global development strategy involving infrastructure projects and associated financing around the world. The project raises questions about China’s economic and geopolitical influence throughout the region, and elicits very different responses from the southeast Asian nations through which the railroad passes.  

The conversation examined the political strengths and weaknesses of China’s effort to create an intercountry railway system connecting China and its seven Southeast Asian neighbors (Cambodia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam). During the discussion the authors explained how domestic politics in the eight Asian nations shape their varying responses and behaviors. They addressed questions regarding how China should wield power using infrastructure; how we should understand the role of infrastructure in broader development; does industrial policy work; and how should other global powers respond.