BRI and Ethnic Tensions: Global South Case Studies

  Aug 16, 2023

Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) and Ethnic Tensions: Case Studies from Global South

The Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) has highlighted how ethnic tensions in host countries can escalate when massive capital flows from BRI projects are involved. The China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) case is illustrative, and similar dynamics can be observed in other BRI projects.
China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), Pakistan and Balochistan: The CPEC, connecting China to Gwadar port in Balochistan, Pakistan, has exacerbated ethnic tensions. Balochistan, home to violent insurgencies, bears a disproportionate burden of CPEC projects. It provides land and resources but receives fewer benefits. The inequitable distribution of gains and burdens fuels social unrest among the Baloch population.
Chico River Pump Irrigation Project (CRPIP), Philippines: The CRPIP is situated in the Kalinga province within the Cordillera Administrative Region (CAR) of the Philippines. The indigenous Kalinga group comprises the majority of the province's population. The CRPIP aims to provide water to agricultural lands in other provinces, benefiting lowland Filipino landlords and farm holders. This project diverts resources from the Kalingas, an oppressed minority, to support local and Manila-based interests.
Indonesia Morowali Industrial Park (IMIP), Central Sulawesi: IMIP, a Chinese-invested smelting and manufacturing park, exploits ethnic cleavages among its Indonesian workforce. The Torajas, an ethnic group from Southern Sulawesi, were hired to work in the smelters. Other ethnic groups with conflicts were employed in adjacent units, making it difficult for Indonesian workers to unite against IMIP.

Key Points:

Ethnic Cleavages: The BRI projects exacerbate existing ethnic tensions within host countries. China's preference for dealing with those in power further fuels these tensions.
Resource Diversion: Similar to the CRPIP case, BRI projects can lead to the diversion of resources from marginalized ethnic groups to benefit local elites and powerful interests.
Exploitation of Ethnic Divisions: The IMIP example highlights how BRI projects can exploit ethnic divisions in the workforce, preventing collective mobilization and weakening the position of local workers.
Beyond Economic and Geopolitical Aspects: The analysis of BRI should not be limited to economic and geopolitical considerations but should also examine the social fissures arising from the influx of Chinese capital.
Overall, these case studies demonstrate that BRI projects, including the CPEC in Balochistan, can inadvertently intensify ethnic tensions within host countries, particularly when they prioritize dealing with existing power structures.Baloch tensions have implications for India too.


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