Sun & Star: The Belt, Road, and Beyond – Domestic Motivations and Implications for the World

Min Ye is an Associate Professor International Relations at the Pardee School of Global Studies at Boston University. Ye’s research on the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) framed the current economic and political climate in China and presented a distinct form of state-economy relations than we are familiar with here in the US. While America functions on a mixed economy, with aspects of capitalism and government intervention for the public good, China utilizes what Ye termed State-Mobilized Globalization or SMG to adapt and work with new challenges in globalization.

Professor Ye explained that China’s SMG framework meant a strong state, strong market, and staged interactions. It consists of 3 major blocks, the party leadership (the CCP), the large state bureaucracy, and subnational actors. First, the party controls and organizes the direction and ideology of the country with ambitious but ambiguous goals and projects like the BRI, the Western Development Program (WDP), and the China Goes Global initiative (CGG). Then the state bureaucracy, which has many functions, focuses on how to adapt those goals for national development and reform. This block also has a lot of influence abroad through the National Development and Reform Council (NRDC). Finally, subnational actors such as local governments, state-owned enterprises (SOEs), private corporations, and interest groups interpret and implement these vague and overarching program initiatives delivered by the party leadership for their own interests and economic growth. While it may seem like a clear top-down process, this system actually highlights the fragmentation in the authority and policy-making process in China in which subnational actors interpret the initiatives in individual and sometimes indirect ways for their own interest. Rather than a clear line of leadership, Professor Ye emphasized that China works in 3 interdependent “dimensions” she called the temporal, national, and subnational dimensions.

The SMG framework resolved motivating reasons for its development such as making strides in the economy, geostrategy, and diplomacy and also propelled China to transition from a mid-tier economic power to an economic superpower on the world stage, but created new problems in state fragmentation. For example, just studying 3 cities in China makes it clear that there are multiple different types of economies at play within the state. Chongqing relies on state-owned enterprises, Ningbo utilizes city planners and the local government, and Wenzhou depends on private entrepreneurs all to accomplish the same goal of economic growth. While there is currently transparency between the central government and subnational actors, it is possible that the amount of fragmentation that we see today may be unsustainable for the CCP. Despite this, it has worked for China so far, and Professor Ye predicts that this approach will be used in future initiatives to establish e-commerce zones, new infrastructure projects, a digital and health Silk Road, and even more domestic and global connections.

It was very interesting to hear about the inner workings of China and how a system so different from the US can function well for an authoritarian regime. As an American student, we learn a lot about how the US came to be a hegemon and economic powerhouse, but with the rise of China, I feel that it is very important to understand how their politics and economics work in order to adequately respond to challenges that we currently and inevitably will continue to face from the other side of the globe.

Watch the entire event below:

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This post was written by Saavni Desai ’23, a President’s Scholar and Tower Scholar. She is double majoring in Political Science and International Studies with a focus on the Middle East and North Africa and triple minoring in Arabic, Philosophy, and the Tower Scholars Public Policy and International Affairs minor. She also does research alongside Professor Takeuchi and is involved in Mock Trial, Indian Student Association, and the Alpha Chi Omega sorority.