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 and boundaries of territorial, cosmological and sacred sovereignty at different historical periods. The investigation seeks to assess to what extent the BRI revives and triggers historical imaginations and cosmologies of empire, reinforces or undermines the sacrality of nation-states as the lynchpin of the modern international order, or ushers in new forms of interpenetrating spacial imaginations and sovereignties.
Post-colonial Empires in the Era of the Belt and Road
David A. Palmer
To what extent can the Belt and Road Initiative be seen as a form of Chinese empire building? This talk will situate the BRI within the long history of shifting forms of empire in Eurasia, from ancient polities to European colonization, to forms of hegemony in the Cold War and post-Cold War eras. I will argue that conventional notions of empire, based on the exclusive territorial sovereignty of a single multinational state on the image of the multicoloured World Map of Westphalian European colonial powers, obfuscate the entangled, overlapping and networked sovereignties that have characterised imperial formations before, during and after the era of European colonization in Asia and Africa. I will outline different modalities and dynamics of empire and propose the notion of the “post-colonial empire” as an imperial formation whose legitimacy is based on respecting the sovereignty of independent nation-states. Using this framework, I will consider the role of the BRI in the asymmetrical dynamics between China and the post-colonial American Empire.