China Made Brief #9

Yangon’s “New City” 

 Courtney T. Wittekind

Download the English PDF version here (948 KB); 点击下载电子中文版(890KB)

Figure 1. An official land use map repurposed to accompany an advertisement for land plots (Original map courtesy of the New Yangon Development Corporation).

Just last year, an advertisement announced that two large plots of land were for sale in the southwestern outskirts of Yangon, Myanmar. They were situated in an area presently awaiting redevelopment as part of the China-Myanmar Economic Corridor, itself a key component of the Belt and Road Initiative’s implementation in Myanmar and the wider Southeast Asia region. Appearing in brochures circulated by real estate brokers and shared across a series of Facebook pages dedicated to strategic investments in peri-urban Yangon’s burgeoning real estate market, the advertisement featured a large multicolored map of what was to come: a “New Yangon City” (Khine Win 2018) of over 20,000 acres, connected to Yangon’s urban core by a series of bridges and highways. In yellows, greens, purples, and reds, the map distilled a series of official visions for what Yangon’s periphery would look like after being converted into urban land. Once an expanse of green—the site of sprawling rice fields for which Myanmar’s lowlands are known—Yangon’s southwest would be parceled off and reclassified into residential, commercial, or industrial zones. A business center, sports complex, civic plaza, and convention center would rise up at the center, linked by newly paved roads, open green space, and a riverfront promenade.

But, as the text of the advertisement made clear, the form and features of the coming “new city” were less a concern than the timeframe in which it would materialize. Written in the style of an imagined conversation between buyer and seller, the advertisement addressed the most common fears weighing on those interested in a land purchase:

[Buyer:] As for me…I knew … the things I’ve heard, can I ask them?

[Seller:] “Give it a go,” he said.

Q: Will they manage to start the New City during the current government’s tenure?

A: “Only 50/50,” he said.

Q: In that case, then the outcome is uncertain for buyers?

A: “If you will buy only when the outcome is certain, the current price will be about two or three times higher for you” he said.

Q: So it’s possible that it will take a long time…?

A: “It could be a long or short time, it just depends on the luck of buyers and of those who have plots to sell,” he said.

Concluding, the seller directed interested buyers to the source of the map featured: “You can be certain [the project] will happen soon. The plan is very good. Go and see for yourself on the developer’s page.”

I begin this Brief with a description of this text not because of its exceptionality, but rather because it is one of a surge of land advertisements circulating on- and off-line, which, together, attempt to spell out not only what will constitute Yangon’s highly-anticipated “new city,” but when it will materialize. The question of when is an urgent one for residents of Southwest Yangon who must navigate the gaping void that stretches between a large-scale project’s proposal and its implementation, weighing practical concerns—planting schedules, seasonal harvest periods, time-sensitive sales of land and other property, and borrowing and repayment timelines—against a persistently unpredictable sequence of project stages. In the case of the proposed New Yangon City, while the concerns about upcoming delays mentioned in the advertisement—slow-downs due to administrative handovers and COVID-19 (Phyo Way 2020; Nan Lwin 2020)—have caused alarm, uncertainty related to the timescale of the project’s implementation has a much longer history.

A New “New City?”

While the land advertisement described at the start of this proposal sought to leverage a specific planning map as evidence that buyers could “be certain” of project outcomes, these maps mean more in central Yangon’s office buildings than in the city’s outskirts, where towns and villages are littered with traces of earlier development efforts. A drive down the main road that links peri-urban Yangon’s southern Dala township with Twante, to the city’s west, finds torn and sun-bleached posters, flyers, and billboards, all promising land in “new cities,” “smart cities,” and “modern developments” of years gone-by (see Than Than Nwe 1998; Rhoads 2018). These are what Ashley Carse and David Kneas have called infrastructural “zombie” projects; “killed” due to concerns of feasibility, transparency, or as a result of local resistance, they nevertheless rise up again and again, with new iterations sparked by changing contexts and remade potentials (2019; see also Goett 2016).

Lying only 860 meters across the Hlaing river from Yangon, the three southwestern townships of Twante, Kyeemindaing, and Seikkyi Kanaungto have long been identified as a strategic site for urban expansion since Yangon’s urban core was constructed under British colonial planners (Pearn 1939). And under the successive governments that have ruled the country since independence, Yangon’s Southwest has remained a high-priority area, highlighted in numerous plans, across decades, as the ultimate solution to Yangon’s ills: overcrowding, a lack of affordable housing, poor connective infrastructure, and uneven expansion to the city’s North and South.

Figure 2. A view of downtown Yangon from the city’s Southwest (Courtesy of Author).

Yet, even after its inclusion in Myanmar’s most recent major infrastructural and urban development plan, progress on a southwestern expansion is nevertheless overdue. After the official 2014 launch of the first Yangon “new city” proposal— then called the Southwest New City— the project was quickly called off, when questions arose about the process by which the project’s prized construction contract was awarded (May Kha 2014). Re-launched a year later with an open tender process, the project was narrowed down to three implementing companies in 2015 (Myat Nyein Aye 2015), with a goal of completing construction of basic infrastructure—roads and bridges and key utilities—by 2017. But, in July of 2017, the project was stalled once again when the new national government, led by Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy, abolished the contracts of the three developers, aiming to begin the project again with renewed commitments to transparency and support for international investors (Myat Nyein Aye and Ye Mon 2016). Within that year, Yangon’s regional officials announced one more effort to restart the project, under a new government-led group called the “New Yangon Development Company Limited” (NYDC), which quickly signed a US$1.5 billion framework agreement with China’s state-owned China Communications Construction Company (CCCC) (Kyaw Ye Linn 2018; Kyaw Phyo Tha 2019). While the project continues forward, numerous ongoing stumbling-blocks to weaken the chances it will be completed according to the timeline laid out in the original planning documents. Most recently, as has been the case with many BRI-associated projects, mounting concern around the potential long-term risks of a Chinese “debt trap” (Board 2019; Nan Lwin 2019) has prompted yet another slow-down, as NYDC allowed third parties to challenge CCCC’s initial bid for the project’s constituent infrastructure works.

While the particulars of this series of suspensions and restarts can often feel convoluted, the impact on Southwest Yangon’s residents has been swift and straightforward. Unable to anticipate what the future will bring—as citizens not yet urban, no longer rural (see Oakes 2020)—the New Yangon plan’s postponement has meant locals have, too, put their own plans on hold. Living in the “gap between promise and performance” (Gupta 2015), they wait to make crucial choices in hopes they can better align their plans with a more reliable timeline for the new city’s emergence.

Figure 3. Longboat drivers who ferry commuters to and from central Yangon await the construction of a bridge to the city’s southwest (Courtesy of Author).

Infrastructural Space, Infrastructural Time

In my ongoing dissertation research, my goal is to examine this predicament by tracing the links between infrastructure-led development, proposed urban transformation, and a new form of temporal inequality that I argue is presently emerging in the wake of China’s Belt and Road Initiative. The spatial unevenness of urban and infrastructural development—and the tremendous inequality it routinely causes—has long been documented within an expansive literature on neoliberal urbanism (Brenner et al. 2009, 2012; Harvey 2012; Smith 2002), with influential works highlighting spatial stratification stemming from ecological destruction (Araghi 2009; Gordillo 2014), capitalist overaccumulation (Harvey 1994; Smith 2002), and gentrification and segregation (Caldeira 1996, 2001; Brenner et al. 2012; Harms 2011, 2016), among others. In Southeast Asia, in particular, scholarship in critical geography, urban studies, and anthropology has extensively documented the relationship between the uneven production of urban space and the forms of dispossession that underlie such processes (Li 2014a, 2014b; Harms and Baird 2014). As Asia’s so-called “final frontier,” Myanmar is often figured as an intensified case of these regional trends, with the country’s embrace of foreign investment linked to a “great land rush” that has upended longstanding relationships between populations and immovable property. As a result, an emerging anthropological literature on Myanmar documents agricultural “land grabs” and their effects on populations facing eviction and displacement (Woods 2011, 2014; Prasse-Freeman 2012, 2016; Mark 2016; Ferguson 2014). 

Yet, while recognizing critical scholarship that has emphasized the manipulation of space as central to the creation and realization of large-scale urban projects, my research underscores the extent to which the pursuit of urban transformation is equally concerned with manipulations of time. In emphasizing this, I join a number of anthropologists and other scholars who see urban and infrastructural investment as critical not only to present-day material transformations in residents’ everyday lives—the laying of pipes, paving of roads, and construction of high-rises, as three examples (Anand 2012; Harvey & Knox 2015; Arican 2020)—but equally to establishing new relationships across time (Harms 2013; Anand et al. 2018; Appel 2019; Carse 2014; Harvey & Knox 2012). Infrastructural investment and urban development have long promised modernity, development, progress, and freedom (Ferguson 2006), functioning as “promissory notes” that guarantee transformation in an undefined future (Appel 2018; also Stoler 2008). Yet, as has been shown in cases spanning the globe, large scale projects rarely adhere to the trajectories promised in planning documents, and, if eventually completed, their final forms routinely fall short of expectations. In a reflection that well captures the temporal dynamics of new urban plans’ implementation, Hannah Appel has fittingly noted that sweeping infrastructure projects do not so much “arrive” in their sites as “advance and retreat” in halting processes marked by delays, suspensions, and abandonment (2018; see also Carse 2014). Simply put, “project time”—defined as a temporal orientation that presupposes “the materialization of blueprint plans in physical form” (MacLean 2017; also Carse and Kneas 2019)—is an ideology rarely realized, as the linear trajectories it presumes splinter in the aftermath of project delays, suspensions, failures, and reversals (see also Gupta 2015, 2018).

This indeterminacy is a fact that planners, themselves, are quick to acknowledge (Abram and Weszkalnys 2011, 2013; Mack and Herzfeld 2020). Myanmar’s pillar urban development proposal—the “2040 Yangon Masterplan,” drafted by the Yangon City Development Committee (YCDC) with assistance from the Japanese International Cooperation Agency (JICA) initially pinpointed the year 2040 as an endpoint for an extended process of strategic urban development, going so far as to separate its timeline into short-term, middle-term, and long-term goals of five-year, ten-year, and 20-year “actions” that would lead to the realization of an “ideal future image of a city” (2013). In follow-up documents to the Masterplan, however, they acknowledge that even as the vision they describe is “basically targeting year 2040,” the city will “take much time to be an ideal image” and so therefore requires stakeholders to “foresee a longer period” up to even “a half a century later” (2018:I 2-1).

Such statements raise an urgent question for residents impacted by the 2040 Masterplan’s proposals: How does one prepare for transformations touted as imminent, while simultaneously foreseeing this “longer period” of potential project implementation? In seeking to answer this question, I propose that the theme of inequality, so dominant in analyses of spatial transformation, must be brought to bear on analyses of infrastructural delay and deferral. When the temporal horizon represented by a project’s potential completion is deferred, stubbornly receding into the farther and farther distant future, how might residents’ responses be differently constrained? For whom do the transformations promised by a “New Yangon City” materialize, and for whom do they remain indefinitely out of reach?

The Belt and Road: Unbuilt and Unfinished

Since China’s proposal for the Belt and Road Initiative—conceived of as a new “21st Century Silk Road”—was introduced in October 2013, literature of the pitfalls and potentials of the Initiative has grown exponentially, describing the numerous and wide-ranging projects that make up the six primary economic corridors envisioned by the Initiative: from high-speed rails to highways, industrial parks, special economic zones, and the construction and expansion of new megacities (Cartier 2018; DiCarlo 2020; Murton and Lord 2020). For scholars drawing on theorizations of critical and Marxist geographies, the BRI has broadly been conceived of as a “spatial fix” seeking to address overaccumulation in the Chinese capitalist system by providing sites for surplus capital (Harvey 1989, 2003, 2006; also Summers 2016, Apostolopoulou 2020; Bach 201¬¬6). When combined with the predominant rhetorical imagery of the Initiative as extending across the globe’s continuous surface through an expansive network of delineated spaces—corridors, zones, and nodes—it is not surprising that this framing has inspired a noteworthy literature on the ability of the Initiative to profoundly remake space (Summers 2020; Alff 2020). In a way that parallels the absence of the temporal in the earlier theorizations of spatial change described above, however, I propose that recent critical geographical scholarship on BRI projects could benefit from an equally lively discussion of the temporal implications of proposed large-scale socio-spatial change.

Interest in the temporal implications of the BRI has grown in the past year, particularly as a result of research into a broader “China Model” of development, which has sought to place analyses of BRI projects within a longer historical framing, considering them not as novel propositions, but as outgrowths of a domestic infrastructure push carried out within China since the 1950s (Oakes 2019). This framing has spurred research into the protracted trajectories of China’s infrastructural development boom, accounting not only for longer arcs of design, implementation, and construction rooted in socialist urban planning (Lam 2019; Tang 2019), but also those of decay and destruction that ensue after projects have served their intended purpose (Lam 2019; Rippa 2019). Following Sewell’s approach to an “eventful capitalism,” related efforts have traced the durational, knock-on effects of the “going out” of Chinese state capital, examining the relationship between capitalism’s expansion and its “hypereventful” history (Lee 2018).  

Important temporal issues remain, however, when it comes to those projects promised under the banner of the Belt and Road Initiative, but not yet delivered. While certainly envisioned in a “Chinese register” (Oakes 2019) unlike their counterparts within China, or even in host countries in Africa, BRI infrastructure in the Southeast Asian region remains largely immaterial, envisioned but not yet implemented in the sites targeted for development. This distinction is one of great importance when it comes to tracing the newly emergent temporalities of infrastructure as, according to a recent article by Ashley Carse and David Kneas (2019), those infrastructures that remain “unbuilt and unfinished” ask not about the material, but about the immaterial— not about aftermath but anticipation.

Such is the case for the New Yangon City project, which is not so much unfinished as not yet begun. Official statements from politicians and developers seeking to reassure the public that the project is still moving forward have been buttressed by a widely publicized series of press releases, calls, and “in-depth discussions” between the Myanmar and Chinese governments confirming that BRI-associated projects will soon be “sped up” (Nan Lwin 2020a, 2020b). Yet the question of when still remains unanswered. In the context of COVID-19 associated slowdowns and suspensions, despite promises that BRI infrastructures will be developed at unmatched scales and speeds, concerns about the potential for protracted project timescales are especially urgent. As the author of the land advertisement reminds readers, it could be a long or short time depending on one’s luck.

Courtney T. Wittekind is a PhD Candidate in Social Anthropology and a Harvard-Mellon Urban Initiative fellow. Her doctoral research pursues two lines of inquiry linked to urban development and economic insecurity in contemporary Myanmar. The primary component is an ethnographic study of the politics of planning amidst uncertainty in southwest Yangon, a region undergoing rapid transformation as a result of the ambitious New Yangon Development Project. A second avenue of inquiry probes Myanmar’s broader political transition, proposing that local responses to the delays and deferrals of a large-scale, state-led development project may reveal related stances toward nascent reforms. This research has been supported by the National Science Foundation, the Wenner-Gren Foundation, and Harvard’s Committee on General Scholarships. 


去年,一则广告宣称两块在缅甸仰光西南郊的大地待售。这两块正在等待开发的地是中缅经济走廊的一部分,而该走廊又是“一带一路”在缅甸和东南亚的关键组成部分。这则广告不仅出现在房地产经纪人分发的手册中,还被分享在一系列专门用于对仰光郊区蓬勃发展的房地产市场进行战略投资的Facebook页面上。这些广告用彩色大地图主打占地超过 20,000 英亩,并通过一系列桥梁和高速公路与仰光的城市核心相连的“新仰光城”( Khine Win 2018)。这张地图以黄色、绿色、紫色和红色的颜色体现了一系列官方愿景,即仰光郊区转变为城市后的样子。以缅甸低地而闻名的广阔稻田,仰光的西南部曾经是一片广阔的绿色。未来这片地区将被分割并重新划分为住宅区、商业区或工业区。商业中心、体育中心、市民广场和会议中心将在中心拔地而起,由新铺设的道路、开放的绿地和滨河长廊连接起来。


[买方:] 对我来讲我知道我听说了一些事,我可以问吗?

[卖方:] 可以啊,他回答。

问题: 新城会在当下政府任期内开始吗?

回答: “一半一半,他回复说。

问题: 那么这个结果对于买房来讲就很不明确?


问题: 那可能这个项目多会花费很长的时间了…?回答: “可能长也可能短。主要还是看买方和卖方的运气,”他说。

最后,卖家将感兴趣的买家引导至所展示的地图源头:“您要相信 [该项目] 很快就会启动。这个计划非常好。你可以去开发商网站自己看。”

我以该对话开启这篇中国制造简报并不是因为其特殊性,而是因为它是大量土地广告在线上和线下传播方式之一。该对话不仅试图阐明是什么构成了仰光备受瞩目的“新城市”,还试图解释了该新城何时会实现。对于仰光西南地区的居民来说,项目何时启动落地是一个紧迫的问题。因为他们必须在大型项目的提议和实施之间中进行权衡实际问题——农作物种植时间、季节性收获期、对时间敏感的土地和其他财产的销售,以及借款和还款时间表——以应对持续不可预测的项目实施阶段。就拟建的仰光新城而言,虽然广告中提到有关延误的担忧已经引起了警觉,例如由于行政移交和 新冠疫情导致的放缓(Phyo Way 2020;Nan Lwin 2020),但项目实施的进度的不确定性可以追溯到更早以前。


虽然开头描述的土地广告试图利用特定的规划地图作为买家可以“确定”项目结果的证据,但相比在到处都是早期开发痕迹的市郊城镇和村庄,这些地图在仰光市中心的办公楼内更有意义。沿着连接仰光郊区南部达拉镇和仰光西边特旺特镇的主要道路行驶,我们能发现曾经承诺“新城市”、“智慧城市”和“现代发展”的海报、传单和广告牌已经变得破烂不堪,也被太阳晒得褪色(参见 Than Than Nwe 1998;Rhoads 2018)。这些就是 Ashley Carse 和 David Kneas 所说的“僵尸”基础设施项目:虽然因为对项目可行性或透明度的担忧或因当地阻力而被“扼杀”,但这些基础设施项目通过变化时代中崭新的迭代和重塑的潜力又一次又一次地崛起(2019;另见 Goett 2016)。

因为仰光城市中心是在英国殖民规划者的指导下建造的 (Pearn 1939) ,Twante、Kyeemindaing 和 Seikkyi Kanaungto 这三个跨Hlaing河860米与仰光相望的西南城镇长期以来一直被认为是城市扩张的战略要点。在缅甸独立以来的历届政府领导下,仰光西南部一直是被高度优先的地区,在众多计划中被认为是解决仰光弊病的最终解决方案。这些问题包括过度拥挤、缺乏经济适用房、连接性基础设施差,和城市南北扩张不均衡。

然而,即使在将其纳入缅甸最近的主要基础设施和城市发展计划之后,仰光西南扩张的进展仍然姗姗来迟。在 2014 年正式启动第一个仰光“新城”(当时称为西南新城)提案后,该项目很快因为项目建筑合同的授予过程被质疑而被取消(May Kha,2014 )。一年后通过公开招标程序重新启动,该项目于 2015 年缩小到三个承包建设公司(Myat Nyein Aye 2015),目标是到 2017 年完成基本基础设施建设,即道路和桥梁以及主要公用事业。但是,在 2017 年 7 月,由昂山素季领导的全国民主联盟领导的新国民政府废除了三个开发商的合同,旨在以重新承诺的透明度和为国际投资者提供的支持重启该项目(Myat Nyein Aye 和 Ye Mon, 2016)。同年内,仰光的地区官员宣布由一个名为“新仰光开发有限公司”(NYDC)的新政府小组领导,再次重启该项目。该小组迅速与中国国有企业——中国交通建设股份有限公司 (CCCC)——签署了一项价值 15 亿美元的框架协议(Kyaw Ye Linn 2018;Kyaw Phyo Tha 2019)。在项目继续推进的同时,许多绊脚石使得原规划文件中规定的完成时间变得困难。如许多一带一路项目情况一样,近期缅甸对中国“债务陷阱”(Board 2019;Nan Lwin 2019)潜在的长期风险的担忧日益加剧,导致了项目进度进一步放缓。比如, 新仰光开发有限公司允许第三方对中国交建对该项目基础设施工程的初步投标提出质疑。

虽然这一系列暂停和重启的细节常常很复杂,但暂停与重启对仰光西南部居民的影响却是迅速而直接的。作为还未正式成为城市居民却又再是是农村人的他们无法预测未来会发生什么(见 Oakes 2020),新仰光计划的推迟意味着当地人也搁置了他们自己的计划。生活在“承诺与绩效之间的偏差”中(Gupta 2015),他们希望能够更好地使自己的计划与新城市建设的更可靠的时间表保持一致,因此等待着做出关键的选择。


在我的论文研究中,我的目标是通过追踪基础设施主导的发展、城市转型以及我认为在中国“一带一路”倡议后产生的一种新形式的时间不平等之间的关系来检验这一困境。大量有关新自由城市主义的文献早已记录了城市和基础设施发展的空间不平衡——以及其时常导致的巨大不平等(Brenner et al. 2009, 2012; Harvey 2012; Smith 2002)。其中有影响力的作品着重强调源于生态破坏的空间分层(Araghi 2009;Gordillo 2014),资本主义过度积累(Harvey 1994;Smith 2002)以及乡绅化和隔离(Caldeira 1996, 2001;Brenner  et al. 2012;Harms 2011, 2016)等。特别是在东南亚,批判地理学、城市研究和人类学方面的学术研究广泛记录了城市空间的不均衡生产与这些过程所导致的各种形式的剥夺之间的关系(Li 2014a, 2014b; Harms and Baird 2014)。作为亚洲所谓的“最后边疆”,缅甸通常被认为是这些地区趋势的一个强化案例:缅甸张开双手欢迎与“土地热潮”相关的境外投资,而这个“土地热潮”颠覆了缅甸人口与不动产之间的长期关系。因此,关于缅甸的新兴人类学文献关注记录农业“土地掠夺”及其所导致的强制驱逐和流离失所(Woods 2011, 2014; Prasse-Freeman 2012, 2016; Mark 2016; Ferguson 2014)。

然而,在承认强调空间操纵是创建和实现大型城市项目核心的批判性学术研究的同时,我的研究强调了城市转型的追求在多大程度上同样关注时间的操纵。为了强调这一点,,我加入了许多人类学家和其他学者的行列,认为城市和基础设施投资不仅对居民当下日常生活中的物质转型至关重要 —— 三个例子为管道铺设、道路建设和高层建筑修建)(Anand 2012;Harvey & Knox 2015;Arican 2020)—— 还对跨时间建立新关系有极大影响(Harms 2013;Anand et al. 2018;Appel 2019;Carse 2014;Harvey & Knox 2012)。长期以来,基础设施投资和城市发展一直承诺现代化、发展、进步和自由(Ferguson 2006),作为“期票”确保在不确定的未来进行转型(Appel 2018;还有 Stoler 2008)。然而,正如全球案例所表明的那样,大型基础设施项目很少遵循规划文件所承诺而发展。即使最终顺利完成,其形式也通常达不到预期状态。 Hannah Appel 很好地反映了新城市计划实施的时间动态,她恰如其分地指出,全面的基础设施项目与其说是“到达”他们的地点,不如说是在停止期间以延迟、暂停、和遗弃的方式“进退”(2018 年;另见 Carse 2014 年)。简而言之,“项目时间”—— 被定义为以“图纸计划落地建成”为前提的时间取向(MacLean 2017;Carse 和 Kneas 2019)—— 是一种很少实现的意识形态,因为它假定的线性轨迹会在项目延迟、暂停、失败和逆转后而被粉碎(另见 Gupta 2015、2018)。

规划者自身很快承认这种不确定性(Abram and Weszkalnys 2011, 2013; Mack and Herzfeld 2020)。仰光市发展委员会 (YCDC) 在日本国际协力机构 (JICA) 的协助下起草的缅甸主要城市发展提案——“仰光 2040 年总体规划”——最初将 2040 年确定为战略性城市长期发展进程的终点,甚至将其时间表分为短期、中期和长期目标,即五年、十年和二十年的“行动”。这些“行动”将实现仰光“理想的未来”城市形象”(2013 年)。然而,在总体规划的后续文件中,他们承认即使他们描述的愿景是“基本上以 2040 年为目标”,这座城市“需要很长时间才能到达其理想的形象”,因此需要利益相关者“预见到更长的时期”甚至“半个世纪后”(2018:I 2-1)。

该声明让受2040 年总体规划影响的居民提出了一个紧迫的问题:人们如何为被吹捧为迫在眉睫的转型做准备,又如何同时预见到潜在项目实施的“长周期”?在试图回答这个问题时,我建议必须把分析空间转型中占主导地位的不平等主题与基础设施延迟和延期的分析相结合。当一个项目的潜在完成时间被延期,不断的被推后,居民的反应会如何被不同地约束? “新仰光城”所承诺的转变对谁来说是可以实现的,对谁来说又是遥遥无期的?


自中国 2013 年 10 月提出“一带一路”倡议(被视为新的“21 世纪丝绸之路”)以来,有关该倡议的危险和潜力的文献呈指数增长,主要描述该倡议设想的六个主要经济走廊:从高铁到高速公路、工业园区、经济特区以及新特大城市的建设和扩张(Cartier 2018;DiCarlo 2020;Murton and Lord 2020)。对于借鉴批判地理学和马克思主义地理学理论的学者来说,“一带一路”被广泛认为是一种“空间修复”,旨在通过为过剩资本提供场所来解决中国资本主义体系中的过度积累问题(Harvey 1989、2003、2006;还有 Summers 2016 , Apostolopoulou 2020;Bach 2016)。一带一路通过广泛的空间网络———走廊、区域和节点——在全球的表面连续延伸。当该主导修辞意象与一带一路倡议相结合时,这个理解框架毫不意外地激发了应人注意的一带一路能彻底改造空间的文献(Summers 2020;Alff 2020)。然而,类似于早期空间变化理论缺乏对时间的关注,我认为近期有关一带一路项目的批判性地理文献同样可以受益于关注大规模社会-空间变化的时间动态。

过去一年,人们对“一带一路”的动态影响越来越感兴趣,特别是在对“中国模式”发展有了更广泛的研究后。动态研究试图将“一带一路”项目置于更长的历史框架内去分析。学者们认为一带一路并不是全新的倡议,而是中国国内自 1950 年代以来对基础设施推动的后续产物(Oakes 2019)。这种新的理解框架激发了对中国基础设施发展热潮的长期轨迹的研究,不仅解释了植根于社会主义城市规划的更长久的设计、实施和建造(Lam 2019;Tang 2019),还解释了在项目达到预期目的之后随之而来的衰败和毁灭(Lam 2019;Rippa 2019)。向Sewell 学习其研究“充满事变的资本主义”方法之后,很多学者努力追踪了中国国有资本“走出去”的持续性连锁效应,考察了资本主义扩张与其“多事”历史之间的关系(Lee 2018)。

然而,对于那些在“一带一路”倡议下承诺但尚未交付的项目,重要的时间问题仍然存在。虽然肯定是在“中国框架”内所设想的(Oakes 2019),但东南亚地区的“一带一路”基础设施与中国国内甚至非洲各国的项目不同。东南亚地区的“一带一路”基础设施在很大程度上仍然是非物质性,不存在的:他们只处在被设想的阶段,还尚未在目标地被开发。在追踪基础设施新星的时间性时,这种区别非常重要。因为根据 Ashley Carse 和 David Kneas(2019 )最近的一篇文章,那些仍然“未建成和未完成”的基础设施不是关于建筑材料,而是关于非物质的——不是关于后果,而是关于预期。

新仰光市项目就是这种情况,与其说是未完成,不如说是尚未开始。政界人士和开发商试图向公众保证该项目仍在推进的官方声明得到了一系列广泛宣传的新闻稿、电话以及缅甸和中国政府之间的“深入讨论”的支持。这些声明证实了与一带一路相关的项目将很快“加速”实施(Nan Lwin 2020a,2020b)。然而,项目什么时候具体开始仍然没有具体答案。在与新冠疫情相关的放缓和暂停的背景下,尽管各方承诺将以无可匹敌的规模和速度开发建设一带一路基础设施,但对项目时间延长的可能性的担忧依然尤其紧迫。正如土地广告的作者提醒买方,时间可长可短,视运气而定。

Courtney T. Wittekind 是社会人类学博士候选人和哈佛-梅隆城市倡议项目研究员。她的博士论文研究当代缅甸的城市发展和无保障经济两方面。其主要内容是通过民族志研究因雄心勃勃的新仰光开发项目而正经历快速转型的仰光西南部,具体研究不确定性中的规划政治。其次是探讨缅甸更广泛的政治过渡,认为地方对大规模、国家主导的发展项目的延误和推迟的反应可能会揭示对新生改革的相关立场。该研究获得了美国国家科学基金会、温纳格伦基金会和哈佛奖学金委员会的支持。



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