BCCN Talk: The Slogan of the Silk and Road Initiative

BCCN Talk: The Slogan of the Belt and Road Initiative

Speaker: Jinghan Zeng (Lancaster University)

Time: 12:00-14:00 (CET) Friday, May 5, 2023

Location: IAAW Building, Invalidenstrasse 118, Room 507

This event is also accessible via Zoom


As China’s project of the century, the Belt and Road Initiative has been widely considered by academic and policy analyses as Beijing’s grand strategy to build a Sino-centric world order. This kind of analyses mistakenly assume China as a unitary actor, in which the authoritarian regime can easily mobilize domestic actors to achieve its geopolitical objectives in a top-down manner. This talk challenges this conventional understanding. It argues that the “Belt and Road Initiative” is a multifunctional political slogan, and this talk will focus on its function to assert power and test support. In order to accommodate the interests of key domestic and international stakeholders, it was introduced and kept as an extremely vague idea that was subject to change. The domestic and global responses to this slogan have gradually driven it from its original design of peripheral diplomacy to a global initiative, making it highly inconsistent at different times. In the domestic arena, the development of the “Belt and Road Initiative” has produced a high level of domestic contestations. While most Chinese domestic actors enthusiastically support the “Belt and Road Initiative”, they have taken advantage of its conceptual vagueness to advance their own provincial/ministerial/departmental interests. This has produced intense competition among domestic actors including a variety of diverse and competing “Belt and Road Initiative” narratives that the central agencies in Beijing have struggled to coordinate. As such, policy outcomes of the “Belt and Road Initiative” are indeed decided by domestic struggle over power and resources rather than Beijing’s masterplan.  


Jinghan Zeng is Professor of China and International Studies at Lancaster University. He is also Academic Director of China Engagement and Director of Lancaster University Confucius Institute. Under his leadership, Lancaster University Confucius Institute received the award of “Confucius Institute of the Year” from Confucius Institute Headquarters in December 2019 and “Outstanding Contribution” award from Lancaster University in December 2020.