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.

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...

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...

Spacializing the BRI in the History of Asian Imperial Imaginations

This subproject situates the contemporary mapping of the BRI within the history of the spacial imagination of Asia, using the notion of “empire” as a conceptual tool to interrogate how the connecting and separation of places through networks and infrastructures of trade and religion have been associated with different imaginations, juxtapositions...

Global/Local Perspectives on Chinese Muslim Origin Narratives and Guangzhou’s Islamic Heritage Sites

Alongstanding tradition among Hui Muslims attributes the arrival of Islam in China to a mission led by Saʿd ibn abī Waqqāṣ (ca. 595-ca.574), a relative of the Prophet Muhammad (570-632). Although the historicity of this story has been questioned to the point of incredulity, Saʿd ibn abī Waqqāṣ is associated with two important sites in Guangzhou –...

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...

Modern China And The Question Of Muslim Sectarianism In The Context Of Inter-Asian Religious Circulations

Sinophone Islam, as found in the Xibei (Xinjiang, Gansu, Qinghai and Ningxia), is characterized by sectarian (jiaopai) divisions among four groupings: the Qadim, the Sufi orders (menhuan), the Ikhwan, and the Salafis. With the exception of the latter, all of these sects adhere to a common doctrinal and legalistic tradition, shared by their...

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...

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...

Mapping Routes, Exchange, And Transformation Along The Borderlands Of Laos, China, And Vietnam: The Lanten Case

Political and, often, scholarly, boundaries divide Asia artificially into units, such as Southeast Asia and China. This modern division often contributes to masking ongoing processes of exchange and flow of persons, goods and ideas, and societies inhabiting the borderlands. Such is the case of the Lanten communities (Landian Yao or Yao Mun) who...

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...