In 2013, Chinese President Xi Jinping unveiled what would come to be known as the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI)—a global development strategy involving infrastructure projects and associated financing throughout the world, including Asia, Africa, the Middle East, Europe, and the Americas. While the Chinese government has framed the plan as one promoting transnational connectivity, critics and security experts see it as part of a larger strategy to achieve global dominance. Rivers of Iron examines one aspect of President Xi Jinping’s “New Era”: China’s effort to create an intercountry railway system connecting China and its seven Southeast Asian neighbors (Cambodia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam).
Rivers of Iron, co-written with Selina Ho and Cheng-Chwee Kuik, illuminates the political strengths and weaknesses of the plan, as well as the capacity of the impacted countries to resist, shape, and even take advantage of China’s wide-reaching actions. Using frameworks from the fields of international relations and comparative politics, the authors of Rivers of Iron seek to explain how domestic politics in these eight Asian nations shaped their varying external responses and behaviors. How does China wield power using infrastructure? Do smaller states have agency? How should we understand the role of infrastructure in broader development? Does industrial policy work? And crucially, how should competing global powers respond?
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About the Author
David M. Lampton
is Senior Research Fellow at the SAIS Foreign Policy Institute and Professor Emeritus at Johns Hopkins--SAIS. Previously, he was Oksenberg-Rohlen Fellow at Stanford University’s Asia-Pacific Research Center from 2019-2020. For more than two decades prior to that he was Hyman Professor and Director of China Studies at the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies. Lampton is former Chairman of the The Asia Foundation, former President of the National Committee on United States-China Relations, and former Dean of Faculty at SAIS. Among many written works, academic and popular, he is author of Same Bed, Different Dreams: Managing U.S.-China Relations, 1989-2000
(UC Press, 2001); The Three Faces of Chinese Power: Might, Money, and Minds
(UC Press, 2008); and, Following the Leader: Ruling China, from Deng Xiaoping to Xi Jinping
(UC Press 2014 and 2019). His most recent book (with Selina Ho and Cheng-Chwee Kuik) is, Rivers of Iron: Railroads and Chinese Power in Southeast Asia
(UC Press, 2020). He received his B.A., M.A., and Ph.D. degrees from Stanford University in political science where, as an undergraduate student, he was a firefighter.