As China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) forges ahead, it continues to receive exponential media, societal and academic attention globally. Greece’s Piraeus harbor, Kenya’s SGR railway and Sri Lanka’s Hambantota port, amongst others, are often cited in many BRI discussions for diverse reasons. Reactions emanating from these discussions vary, just like the effects of the BRI projects themselves; from very successful outcomes of some; to ambivalent or detrimental effects of others; to comparative debates where BRI projects are compared to other initiatives; to reflections on debt distress amongst participant states. While engaging with notions of “de-linking” and “re-linking” for reflection and exploration of BRI effects and experiences – whereby “link” also stands for drawing from “local insights and new knowledges” – this symposium aims at analyzing current and future BRI perspectives across Asia, Africa and Europe.
At the invitation of Gropius Bau and SAVVY Contemporary under the auspices of Berliner Festspiele, various artists, authors, musicians, filmmakers and thinkers participated in the international exhibition titled ‘Indigo Waves and Other Stories: Re-Navigating the Afrasian Sea and Notions of Diaspora’ that ran from 6th April until 13th August 2023. I was privileged to have been invited to showcase a section of my De:Link // Re:Link BRI research at Humboldt University of Berlin
Berlin has witnessed myriads of events that shaped global politics. One such event is the 1884-1885 Berlin Congo Conference which subdivided Africa amongst colonialists. China often strategically invokes Western colonialism to remind its Global South counterparts that while the West acted colonially -including colonising China- China is interested in cooperation, friendship, trade and development such as the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).
As part of my visit to Berlin (this past September 2023) to do some work on the De:Link // Re:Link Project involving the Belt and Road Initiative, I had the opportunity (among many other activities such as the pleasant trip to the port of Duisburg, the largest inland port in the world) to read and discuss with some members of the project team, during the De:Link // Re:Link Silk Roads Roundtable, a new book on Africa and Asia by Professor Yoichi Mine of the University of Tokyo.
Unknown to many, Duisburg Port in Germany is the largest inland port in the world and the most significant inland port in central Europe. It consists of 22 port basins and its waters cover an area of 180 hectares. Approximately 60 freight trains travel weekly from Duisburg to Chongqing city in China and vice versa, making the Duisburg Port a key hub of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). At Duisburg Port, 20,000 ships and 25,000 freight trains
On the 11th of December, we held a Silk Roads Workshop for teachers from various schools located within the state of Berlin. The workshop was titled The New Silk Road and it lasted from 1500 until 1800. Ulrike Cordier and John Njenga Karugia organized the workshop at the Institute for Asian and African Studies Institute at the Humboldt University of Berlin. The objectives of the Silk Roads Workshop were:
We were privileged to host our four international fellows this past Summer Semester and partly Winter Semester. During their stint in Berlin, we held a Silk Roads Roundtable session where we discussed various research approaches to study the Belt and Road Initiative and updated each other on our various research projects.
The Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) is one of the biggest projects in transportation, freight, road, rail, air, and maritime linkage in the history of the world, but it concerns itself inadequately with road safety. Out of 1.2 to 1.3 trillion US$, the transport investment is 144 billion to 304 billion. BRI transport projects are estimated to increase trade by between 2.8 and 9.7% for corridor economies (Pakistan, Indonesia and African continent) and between 1.7 and 6.2% for the world (ibid). With this huge volume of trade, one may ask: are road safety, carbon emission, environmental degradation and smog mitigating measures adopted in this mega initiative? BRI transport projects will contribute to lifting 7.6 million people from extreme poverty and 32 million people from moderate poverty (Ibid) but will security and safety of the road users be considered adequately?
China’s BRI Geopolitical Maritime Investments in the European Union’s Shipping Industry, European Union’s Reaction and Implications for South-South Relations
China is purchasing stakes in strategic ports across the European Union with varying dynamics observable in each deal including its latest purchase at Germany’s Hamburg harbor. China Ocean Shipping Company (COSCO) which is one of the world’s largest shipping companies has also purchased shares in sea ports in: Belgium, Spain, Italy, Netherlands and Greece. These maritime investments are in line with Chinese President Xi Jinping’s 2013 proposition to invest in a 21st century Maritime Silk Road which is a part of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).
Two Confucius Institutes exist in Tanzania. Their construction was financed by China and they are hosted by the University of Dar es Salaam and the University of Dodoma. The Tanzanian Director of the Confucius Institute at the University of Dar es Salaam (UDSM), Prof. Dr. Aldin Mutembei is a Fellow of our De:Link // Re:Link research project. Prof. Mutembei gave a very insightful public lecture at the Institute for Asian and African Studies here at the Humboldt University zu Berlin.