The Unintended Consequences of Politicization of the Belt and Road’s China-Europe Freight Train Initiative

Research output: Journal Publications and Reviews (RGC: 21, 22, 62)21_Publication in refereed journalpeer-review

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Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)58-78
Journal / PublicationThe China Journal
Online published13 Dec 2019
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2020


The Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) has been widely criticized as a purely strategic project to enhance China’s international influence. Focusing on an ongoing yet underresearched signature BRI project, the China-Europe freight train routes, this article challenges such a sweeping characterization, which has masked the complexities of the reality. The freight initiative arose from local-level actors in multiple sites as a cost-effective means to make use of preexisting rail tracks across Asia to enhance transport efficiency. Their efforts later metamorphosed into what today looks like a grand unified project, politicized by the national government and subsidized by competing provincial capitals. The article provides an explanation for the complex consequences of the freight train project’s politicization.