‘Aerial Silk Roads’: Airport Infrastructures in China’s Belt and Road Initiative

Weiqiang Lin, Qi Ai

Research output: Contribution to JournalArticlepeer-review


The Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) is widely touted as China’s answer to
development through international connectivity. The scheme has often been
linked to China’s objectives of crafting a new world order centred on itself
and/or stabilizing its economy through externalizing surplus capacity.While
important in broadly framing China’s relationship with the world, this article
posits that such a fixation on state-centric visions of development leaves
the door open for misinterpretation, mistaking the BRI for a coherent set of
projects imposed ‘from above’. Delving into the execution of infrastructure
planning on the ground, this article argues that taking a practice-oriented approach to large-scale developmental schemes can more accurately shed light
on their internally fractured processes. Two airport projects in central China
branded as part of the country’s ‘aerial Silk Roads’ are examined to illustrate
these dynamics, with particular attention paid to the airports’ shifting conceptualizations, the competitive motivations behind their (re)construction,
and the social relations sustaining them. The authors argue that closely tracking
the unfolding of a range of infrastructure planning practices within specific
projects can demystify modern-day developmental programmes like the
BRI, by revealing how their ‘grand’ visions are often reinterpreted, altered
and frustrated at local levels, even before they have a chance to influence the
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1123-1145
Number of pages23
JournalDevelopment and Change
Issue number4
Early online date7 Jul 2020
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 7 Jul 2020


  • Airport
  • Infrastructure
  • Planning
  • China
  • Belt and Road Inititive
  • Development


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