Two Hegemonic Restructuring Projects in Diachronic Perspective: America’s Marshall Plan (1948-1951) and China’s Belt & Road Initiative (2013-)

One-day conference on November 30th, 2018 on the topic of “Two Hegemonic Restructuring Projects in Diachronic Perspective: America’s Marshall Plan (1948-1951) and China’s Belt & Road Initiative (2013-).”  The conference will bring together scholars of International Relations and History from China, Europe, and the United States to examine the historical legacy and contemporary relevance of the US-led European Recovery Plan (Marshall Plan) of the 1940s and the Chinese-led Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) of the present day.

As the global and regional hegemons of the twentieth century retreat from investing in development around the world, China marches on with the ambitious global program known as the Belt and Road Initiative. President Xi Jinping launched the BRI in 2013 to connect Eurasian economies through infrastructure, trade and investment. Extending to 68 countries or regions covering a vast area of Eurasia, including Central and Southeast Asia, Eastern and Western Europe, and parts of the Middle East, Africa and Oceania, the BRI seeks to create the ports, roads and rail and telecommunications links for a modern-day Silk Road. The economic promises and perils of the BRI are still in the making, but its political message is obvious: China is attempting to establish a new model of global leadership in its own image.

The BRI is often compared to the European Recovery Plan, which helped rebuild Western Europe after the Second World War. This conference starts by taking this juxtaposition seriously to review the ways in which nation-states have attempted to exercise global leadership since the 1940s.

We suggest that it is important to understand the original goals of regional re-structuring in the wake of World War II, and to take seriously what nations outside of the West – the USSR chief among them – claimed: that socialist planning models and Soviet aid were specular to the Western capitalist intervention. We suggest, further, that it is not that there were no major development projects in the period between the Marshall Plan and the present, including, of course, IMF and World Bank Projects, initiatives coming out of the European Union, and projects led by European nations such as the German Federal Republic and the German Democratic Republic, as well as by Japan.

What sets apart the BRI from other redevelopment projects since the Marshall Plan, however, is its intensity and scope of investment and branding that merge economic investment and restructuring with strong cultural messaging to re-develop a non-Western-centric global system of communication, trade, and post-capitalist normative international relations. We also underscore its timing, in that the BRI has emerged following the end of a short but prolific post-Cold War period (circa1990 to 2010) in which multilateral diplomacy, networked communications, and international non-governmental organizations sought to give a new soft-power order to international governance.

We thus ask: Is the BRI a response to —or an outcome of — the failure of this multilateral liberal global order, which was concerned with expanding neo-liberal markets globally, and, as a support, democracy-building, communicating through cyber technology, and U.S.- and NATO-led regional wars and policing actions?

The goal of the conference is to offer a critical historical analysis of this new hegemonic project and the changing nature of building international influence from the mid-twentieth to the early twenty-first century. By comparing the BRI with the Marshall Plan, we renew the process of revising interpretations of the Marshall Plan moment, the last significant episode of which occurred in the 1990s in the wake of the break-up of the USSR, as U.S. and European historians converged in terms of thinking about the European Recovery Plan as the first project of “global capitalist restructuring.” We will address the question of whether the BRI represents analogously the first post-capitalist or post-Western global restructuring project, following the relative decline of the US and Europe and the rise of “the Rest.”

The conference will be preceded by a dinner for all participants on Thursday, November 29th, followed by a full-day meeting on November 30th. We do not require any formal papers, and the conference attendance will be by invitation only. Our goal is to have a frank and engaged conversation on the subject of historical and contemporary hegemonic restructuring.

List of Participants

Charles K. Armstrong, The Korea Foundation Professor of Korean Studies in the Social Sciences, Columbia University

Thomas Christensen, Professor of International and Public Affairs, Columbia University

Victoria de Grazia, Moore Collegiate Professor of History, Columbia University

Dong Xiangrong, Professor at the National Institute of International Strategy, Chinese Academy of Social Sciences

Barry Eichengreen, George C. Pardee and Helen N. Pardee Professor of Economics and Political Science, University of California Berkeley

Peter Katzenstein, Walter S. Carpenter, Jr. Professor of International Studies at Cornell

Li Guoqiang,Professor at the Institute of Chinese Borderland Studies, Chinese Academy of Social Sciences

Charles Maier, Leverett Saltonstall Professor History, Harvard University

Andrew Nathan, Professor of Political Science, Columbia University

Jack Snyder, Robert and Renée Belfer Professor of International Relations at Columbia University

Gayatri Spivak, University Professor, Columbia University

Joseph Stiglitz, University Professor, Columbia University

Oliver Stuenkel, Associate Professor of International Relations at the Getulio Vargas Foundation, Sao Paulo

Adam Tooze, Kathryn and Shelby Cullom Davis Professor of History, Columbia University

Wang Yiwei, Professor of International Relations, Renmin University


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  • Weatherhead East Asian Institute, Columbia University (invited co-sponsor)

  • European Institute, Columbia University (co-sponsor)

  • Institute for Social and Economic Research and Policy, Columbia University (co-sponsor)

  • China and the World Program (co-sponsor)