Acta Geographica Sinica ›› 2020, Vol. 75 ›› Issue (6): 1134-1146.doi: 10.11821/dlxb202006003

• Case Studies in the Belt and Road Region • Previous Articles     Next Articles

Theorizing the construction of the Belt and Road Initiative: Based on institutional and cultural perspectives

LIU Weidong1,2, YAO Qiuhui1,2   

  1. 1. Key Laboratory of Regional Sustainable Development Modeling, Institute of Geographic Sciences and Natural Resources Research, CAS, Beijing 100101, China;
    2. College of Resources and Environment, University of Chinese Academy of Sciences, Beijing 100049, China
  • Received:2019-10-07 Revised:2020-04-20 Online:2020-06-25 Published:2020-08-25
  • Supported by:
    Priority Research Program of Chinese Academy of Sciences(XDA20080000)


Promoting the construction of the Belt and Road initiative (BRI) towards a new stage of high-quality development raises new subjects for academic research, which demands in-depth study of existing BRI projects, summarizing experiences and lessons and theorizing construction models to guide future development. Research in the field of economic geography focused on outward foreign direct investment (FDI) of Chinese firms, but BRI construction is much broader in scope, consisting of not only FDI projects but also China-financed projects and emerging mixed projects. Case studies of BRI projects have shown that significant cultural and institutional difference between China and host country is the factor that tends to be ignored by Chinese firms in the "going global" efforts. Thus, revisiting the institutional and cultural turn in economic geography and employing its research framework to analyze BRI projects and summarize their construction models may contribute to the development of both economic geography and BRI. This article will first briefly review the background and research trends of the institutional and cultural turn; then summarize three major construction models of BRI projects, namely EPC (Engineering Procurement Construction)-based, concession-based and FDI models; finally draw on the institutional and cultural turn to classify BRI projects according to two indicators of "Breadth and Depth of Territorial Embeddedness" and "Destructive Effects of Technology and Project" into four types, i.e. transformative, supportive and ordinary projects as well as industrial parks. Different institutional and cultural sensitivity can be identified for each type of projects. The preliminary theorization proposed in this article may offer a potential framework for future research on BRI construction.

Key words: Belt and Road Initiative, institutional and cultural difference, financing structure, high-quality development, territorial embeddedness