Imperial Potentialities

Chinese Infrastructure Projects and Socioeconomic Networks in Mozambique and Mongolia


Contact person: Associate Professor Morten Axel Pedersen 

Over recent years, China has been flexing its muscles on a still more global scale. Amid fears that we are witnessing the rise of a new superpower, China itself has stressed its historically “leading role” in Asia and the need to forge “multipolar” alliances across the Third World to curb US hegemony . Recently, China’s involvement in Africa has received growing attention as the European Union and the US recognize the tough competition from an adversary known for having “no political strings attached”, not only in terms of business investments, but also when it comes to international development. Taking Mozambique as an example, it is clear that the threat is not unfounded. From 2002 to 2006, China’s trade volume in Mozambique has quadrupled. Meanwhile, in a development which has taken place largely unnoticed compared with the events in Africa, a “new Great Game” is played out at the heart of Eurasia, as China, Russia, and the Western powers are competing for influence in the strategically important but politically volatile underbelly of the former Soviet Union. Whether China’s vision of a “modern Silk Road” is going to materialize or not, its investments to access Central Asia’s booming oil, coal and gold industries will affect local economies significantly, not only within independent nations like Mongolia, but also within China’s own Inner Asian provinces, such as Inner Mongolia and Xinjiang.

It is of obvious interest for researchers and policy-makers alike to understand the intentions and effects of China's increasing clout in the Third World. Yet surprisingly few qualitative studies have been made of the current Chinese intervention in Sub-Saharan Africa and Inner Asia, and no one has tried to compare these developments, and relate the resulting findings to theories about globalisation and transition processes in postcolonial and post-communist contexts. This research project is envisioned to fill this empirical and theoretical lacuna. Through a comparative investigation of Chinese development aid and private investments in sub-Saharan Africa and Inner Asia, this project aims to produce fresh empirical data from two frontlines of China’s intervention in the Global South and theorise in a new way the role of materialities in local responses to global processes. By exploring the  partly unintended consequences of Chinese infrastructure projects Mozambique and Mongolia from the dual perspectives of local populations and Chinese agents respectively, our aim is to set up a comparative axis not just between two sites in Africa and Asia, but also within two two settings. By charting how an emerging global power is embodied, mediated and subverted via different socio-economic networks and political-economic materialities, we wish to chart new ground in the social scientific study of late capitalism.


Professor Morten Axel Pedersen, Institut for antropologi, Københavns Universitet
Post doc Mikkel Bunkenborg, Institut for antropologi, Københavns Universitet
Adjunkt Morten Nielsen,  Afdeling for Antropologi og Etnografi, Aarhus Universitet