China’s Provinces and the Belt and Road Initiative (China Policy Series), written by Dominik Mierzejewski

In: African and Asian Studies
Qichao Wang Lecturer, Polish Studies Center, School of International Relations and Institute of Area Studies, Xi’an International Studies University Xi’an China

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Dominik Mierzejewski. 2021. China’s Provinces and the Belt and Road Initiative (China Policy Series), 1st Edition. New York: Routledge. 252pp. Price: USD128 (hardback), ISBN: 978-036765490

China-launched Belt and Road Initiative has drawn a significant attention in scholarship, and it is widely studied from many theoretical as well as empirical perspectives. In his clear-structured monograph, China’s Provinces and the Belt and Road Initiative (China Policy Series), Dr. Dominik Mierzejewski has discussed China’s central-local relations and its interplay in the process of BRI implementation with an innovative re-visit of foreign para-diplomacy. He completed the book with his solid field work and an in-depth “know-how” analysis by featuring China’s crucial provinces and cities, as he presented an interaction between the central and local governments with a “Chinese mindset”. The primary argument is the BRI serves as a vehicle for.

One of Mierzejewiski’s unique research approaches is that he precisely captured a great number of Chinese explanations to rationalize the holistic evolution of the provincial level in BRI, examples of which were that “the river changes its curves every thirty years” (p.1), “running in various ministries, departments and [and hoping that] money will come into your pocket” (p.15), “the central government has a policy, but the local government has countermeasures” (p.17).

The enormous political metaphors successfully associated with the author’s observation with an in-depth cultural assertiveness on China’s provincial governance featuring a combination of political science and sinology. Largely but not exclusively, Mierzejewski systematically conducted quite impressive discourse analysis from various resources, including released governmental reports, official interviews and daily observations.

After a realm of theoretical explanation for the leverage of central-local perspectives, the author tested his insightful analyses by offering three pairs of detailed cases aiming to reinforce complication of the central-local relations in China as well as locating a geographical significance of various provincial level shouldering different specific goals in China’s developmental course. The “bridgehead” (p.55) illustrated how Heilongjiang and Yunnan, where the two cross-bordered provinces mattered in securing China’s “marginalized” provincial markets from both economic and security connotations and stood up tightly for Sino-Russian and Sino-ASEAN relations.

The second pair – Sichuan and Chongqing – were timely framed into one of China’s key priority zones, thus the Yangtze River Economic Belt (YEB), which was also emphasized in the official report of the 19th National Congress of the Communist Party of China (CPC). Mierzejewski’s research underpinned the two mega cities that functioned as a Eurasian bridge in the BRI and revealed another important developmental dynamic as “Chengdu-Chongqing Economic Circle”, where the author provided another barometer for China’s vigorous economic growth.

The subsequent chapter provided information on Guangdong and Hainan to demonstrate China’s strategic ambition in the Maritime Silk Road. The author further chronicled the role that Guangdong, as a frontier and pioneer for China’s “reform and opening up” policy in the late 1970s, stepped forwarded into the new era for the handover of Hong Kong and Macao to strengthen the economic development in the Pearl River Delta (PRD). Due to the closer independence within the region, the formation of Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Greater Bay Area (GBA) was lifted a multiple-purpose sub-region in South China not only served for China’s foreign policy but also a window for such various developmental indexes as high-tech gateway of Shenzhen within its “one country, two systems” framework.

The author also pointed out Hainan’s strategic location in the course of being China’s “international tourism island” as well as an engagement in Beijing’s South China Sea policy towards other actors in the region. The selection of the above-mentioned provincial units strongly presented what’s going on in China and the vivid description of the daily interaction of the central and local governments demonstrated the author’s abundant and accurate scholarship on the topic. Thus, his primary finding illustrates that within the context of BRI, the interplay of the centralization and decentralization in China’s political life is positive and reciprocal, the finding itself based on the immersion of Chinese political life is quite convincing and inspiring.

Another outstanding contribution of the book was that the author as well walked into the dimension of “local cooperation” between China and other countries alongside the BRI. With a Polish background, scholar, he addressed quite a few points on China-CEEC cooperation as well as the China-Europe freight train operating in various Central and Eastern Europe cities; Ningbo of Zhejiang city as a leading in introducing products from CEEC region, etc.

Meanwhile, the author further provided information on the sub-region of Poland or Central and Eastern Europe, thereby “walking out” of the comfort zone and endeavoring to provide a more general “approach-agenda” setting to achieve an inclusiveness of other such cooperative mechanisms as BRICS, Greater Mekong Subregion among others to comprehensively investigate China’s domestic dynamics.

Yet, given China’s vast territory and the imbalance of its landlocked western and developed eastern coastal cities, the author seemed to be constrained from the limited experiences of field work, and that also implies there is still large scholarly gaps to be filled in future research.

With China’s Provinces and the Belt and Road Initiative (China Policy Series), Mierzejewski answers a variety of dilemmas and puzzles by making comparison of assorted cases through the lens of centralization and decentralization to offer his readers reasons behind Xi Jinping’s policies in BRI.

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