Conceptualizing China’s increasingly active development outreach through the Belt and Road Initiative as the internationalization of China’s “developmental statecraft,” I argue that the central goal of this process is to induce alignment of state-directed development agendas in the partnering countries with China’s own, and to coordinate international collective actions toward the construction of a China-centered economic network. Such an economic grand strategy is informed by China’s own developmental state experience. Through a close examination of how the developmental state bureaucracy operationalizes the BRI in the period of 2013-2020, and a crucial case of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, I demonstrate that such “craft” involves extensive use of planning, corporatist mechanisms for interest aggregation, and platform-building. The dissecting analysis goes beyond the usual sketchy description of economic statecraft tools discussed in the literature. Effectiveness of developmental statecraft depends on the state’s capacity to 1) define and articulate a clear development agenda that makes sense to relevant actors, 2) mobilize resources, 3) coordinate among various actors to ensure the alignment of actions and goals, 4) respond to feedbacks and adapt when plans prove infeasible. I show that the Chinese state has stronger capacity in agenda articulation and mobilization, weaker capacity in coordination, and weakest in adaptation, resulting in overstretch.
Hong Zhang is a Postdoctoral Fellow at the China Africa Research Initiative, Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, and a fellow at the China and the World Program at Columbia University in 2021-2022. She received her PhD in Public Policy from George Mason University in 2021. Her current research revolves around two questions: how the Chinese state engages in international development cooperation in relation to its domestic political economic needs, and how China’s construction and engineering contractors serve to project Chinese state capitalism globally. She co-edits the People’s Map of Global China and the Made in China Journal.
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