Paving Portions Of The ‘One Road’ Across The Indian Ocean: China’s Highway And Bridge Projects In The Republic Of The Maldives

Our work examines the work of constructing domestic overland roads and bridges within the Republic of the Maldives. This archipelago of atolls stretches across 90,000 square kilometres, but of that vast territory only less than 300 square kilometres is comprised of dry land. The country includes within its territorial waters two major deep-water channels important for Indian Ocean shipping between South Asia and the Middle East. Chinese infrastructure projects in the country have, however, focused extensively – indeed almost exclusively – on projects facilitating wheeled transport across and between strategically selected islands.

We investigate two areas in which the impact of New Silk Road connections can be seen as contributing to religious change in the islands. The first explores incidents of unexpected spiritual encounters that have been unintentionally afforded by the spaces and connections brought into existence by BRI infrastructure projects, and in particular by the Sinamalé Bridge. The second examines the impact of Chinese and Saudi Arabian interventions on imaginations of both Islam and development in the recalibration of Maldivian national identity.

“The Ghost on the Bridge: Infrastructure and Local Experience of New Links between China and the Muslim World along a Watery Stretch of the Belt Road” (*In preparation for submission to Asian Ethnology )

 

ABSTRACT

This study examines the unexpected social effects that have accompanied the flows of goods, people, and ideas facilitated by recent Chinese and Saudi Arabian infrastructure investments in the Maldives. In this archipelago of coral atolls, the signature projects associated with this have been focused on facilitating wheeled transport across and between strategically selected islands. Our work here combines a critical perspective on the geopolitical dynamics of these projects and ethnographic engagements with local residents to present a window on to how macro-dynamics of international development and contemporary discursive formations of global Islam are understood and experienced in local communities on these islands at the center of a re-imagined Indian Ocean World.

“Dreams about Development: Infrastructure, Islam and Maldivian Identity” [* Planned submission for the BRINFAITH project edited volume.]

 

ABSTRACT

This paper examines the religious and nationalist imaginations of the Maldivian people amidst the geopolitical dynamics of infrastructure investments of China, India and Saudi Arabia in the country. The interventions of these much larger and wealthier nations into the physical environment, national economy, and local culture of the Maldives have had deep and complex implications for the lives of many in this exclusively Muslim Indian Ocean island nation. Our research interrogates some of the abstract dimensions of infrastructure spaces to explore the ways development projects play in to the negotiation of power politics in the Indian Ocean region as the connections extend in and beyond the borders and waters of the Maldive Islands. We explore the geopolitical interests and discursive deployment of global development jargon within the tumultuous domestic political arena in order to better understand the ways in which international investment for infrastructure development projects are brought to bear on local conversations about the national identity of Maldives in relation to both the broader Muslim world, and the shifting patterns of inter-Asian relations in the twenty-first century.

State-Building In Religious Society: A Comparative Study Of Religious Control In Belt And Road Countries

This research aims to study state policies of the religious control in Belt and Road countries in Central Asia, including China (Xinjiang province), Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Azerbaijan, and Tajikistan. Through a comparative study of the religious policies in these countries, this study seeks to reveal how the socialist or post-socialist...

Buddhism At The Borders Of Trade: Colonial And Post-Colonial Discourses On Trans-Himalayan Economic Networks And Connectivity

The expansion of international trade exerted and continues to exert considerable influence on the negotiation of nation-state borders and on the formation of cultural, social, and religious identities. While the relationship between religion and trade is undeniably complex and multifaceted, it has been suggested that commercial connectivity has...

Inter-Asian Learning And Teaching Across The Belt And Road: In-Between Pakistani Madrasah And Chinese School

Driven by the steady increase of the Muslim population, ethnic Muslims in Hong Kong have been desperately seeking physical space for daily prayer and reciting Qur’an. Out of the strong religious aspiration, many small-scale madrasah (‘housques’) have been flourishing in many parts of Hong Kong in recent years. Based on my ongoing ethnographic...

Muslim Humanitarian Networks and Chinese Infrastructures in Northern Pakistan

This project investigates the intersection of Muslim humanitarian networks and Chinese-built infrastructures in Gilgit-Baltistan in northern Pakistan. The central aim of the project is to examine how at this meeting point of material and social entities that are often seen as disjointed new meanings emerge which alter the use and poetics of...

Sacralizing The Works, Engaging Inter-Cultural Relations: Stories Of Indonesian Female Muslim Workers In Hong Kong

Alhamdulillah (thanks to God), I made my hijrah (literally migration, from sinful to righteously pious -better- Muslim). I had intended to do so for years, but finally made it since last year. It's been a year now," said a niqab-ed Indonesian female Muslim worker in her monthly religious gathering at victoria Park of Hong Kong, in October 28th,...

Alternative Networks In Southeast Asia: One Sea One Temple, And The City Of A Thousand Temples

In response to the slogan One Belt One Road a small temple in Sibu, Sarawak came up with an alternative slogan – One Sea One Temple. They then built a network of over 100 Dabogong (Tudigong) temples in ports along the South China Sea and into the Indian Ocean. This covers much of the same territory as the BRI’s “Maritime Silk Road.” But rather...

Religious Circulation, Transportation Routes, And Urban Space: Christianity In Late Imperial And Modern China

This project studies the intricate and largely overlooked relationship between religious circulation, transportation routes and urban space in the historical context of state building and global connection in mid-eighteenth to mid-twentieth-century China. Focusing on the case of Christianity, it examines three cities and regions that have played...

Alternative Healing Methods And China’s Health Silk Road: Chinese Muslim Medical Enterprises And Practitioners In Dubai

China has gained more prominence in terms of its global health leadership during the coronavirus pandemic. The state dispatched medical teams and supplies to many Belt and Road countries in the last six months. Sinopharm, a large state-owned Chinese pharmaceutical company, established its first overseas COVID-19 vaccine clinical trial program in...

Parallels And Paradoxes: New Religious Formations In Response To The BRI In Sri Lanka

Since the end of the civil war in 2009, Sri Lanka has attracted significant volumes of foreign investment. The vast majority of this investment has come from Chinese companies, which have committed loans amounting to over US$ 7 billion so far. Much of this investment has been used to finance large-scale infrastructure projects, including the...

Between A Rock And A Hard Place: Sinophobia And Religious Nationalist Sentiments In Vietnam

President Xi Jinping’s launch of the One Bell One Road Initiative (OBOR or BRI) was met with a negative reaction in the Vietnamese public sphere, although the speedy development of infrastructure connecting Vietnam and China would stimulate a number of trade sectors. The discussion focused on whether part of Vietnamese sovereignty should be given...