Northwestern Events Calendar


Sovereign Debt in the Making: Financial Entanglements and Labor Politics along the ‘Belt and Road’ in Laos

When: Tuesday, October 22, 2019
12:00 PM - 1:00 PM Central

Where: 1800 Sherman Avenue, 3rd floor, 3029, Evanston, IL 60201 map it

Audience: Graduate Students

Contact: Elizabeth Morrissey  

Group: Equality Development and Globalization Studies (EDGS)

Category: Lectures & Meetings


EDGS Graduate Lecture Series

Wanjing (Kelly) Chen, PhD Candidate in Geography, University of Wisconsin-Madison

The Chinese state’s escalated lending in the global south under the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) has garnered worldwide concerns. Attentions are drawn to predict the future impacts of inter-state debt relations forged for BRI, as exemplified in popular theories like ‘debt trap’. This talk argues instead for the need to address present implications generated by the ongoing making of these southern sovereign debts. Tracing the contingent and unfolding processes to ground credit into a BRI railway in Laos, I demonstrate how frictions over debt making provoked multi-scalar financial entanglements. The dynamic turned some conventionally perceived beneficiaries of the debt deal, like the wide range of Chinese enterprises and labors contracted to construct the railway into its victims. On the contrary, some marginalized Lao actors, who are often imagined as silent victims of the financial arrangement, demonstrate more success in resisting its exploitation at present stage. These largely ignored and often fleeting struggles in the contemporary financial turmoil of the BRI are crucial to understand the global expansion of Chinese capitalism.

Wanjing (Kelly) Chen is a dissertator in human geography from University of Wisconsin-Madison. Her work examines the politics of Chinese investment in Southeast Asia. Using an ethnographic method, she follows the footprint of Chinese investors and documents how these middling actors make Belt and Road Initiatives happen on the ground.

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