Investigating a Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) project in Myanmar, this paper contests the proposition that China’s state-coordinated investments are, by nature, more accommodating to local people’s demands than Western investments. Tension between Myanmar villagers and the Chinese state-owned enterprise (SOE) in a copper mine project does not square with Beijing’s “inclusive globalization” narrative. Drawing upon extensive semi-structured interviews with stakeholders in a Sino-Myanmar copper mine project, as well as other secondary data, this study finds that the Chinese SOE’s operation was reactive to the ebb and flow of social resistance and the government’s pressure amid the host country’s democratization in the 2010s. Reforms were more likely to occur when the Chinese SOE observed more domestic constraints in its operation environment. It showed less incentive to improve its business practices when societal actors failed to display strong resistance, and the host government did not care about its legitimacy. Despite Beijing’s efforts to craft an image of itself as a responsible power, conflicts in the BRI project should not be simplified as the SOE’s defiance of the state’s regulations. They are rooted in the state-centric foreign policy that systematically overlooks societal actors in state-coordinated investments.
Bibliographical noteWe are grateful to Ian Holliday, Courtney Fung, three anonymous reviewers and the editors for their critical and constructive comments. We are also thankful to the informants’ facilitation and interviewees’ participation in this research.
© 2021 Informa UK Limited, trading as Taylor & Francis Group.
- Belt and Road Initiative
- copper mine
- social movements
- state-coordinated investment