PhD Interview Series
Transferring Chinese Urban Planning Standards to Belt and Road Countries

DoIP Spotlight: Jiejing Shi

In a monthly interview series, the Dynamics of Inclusive Prosperity Initiative will turn the spotlights on their PhD candidates. Learn more about their research projects, their link with inclusive prosperity and long term goals. This edition features Jiejing Shi who is studying the challenges and opportunities in transferring Chinese urban planning standards to the Belt and Road countries.

What is your research about? 

Regionalization is the way in which countries unify themselves into integrated regions, such as the European Union or the Eurasian Economic Union. These unification strategies crystalize and fuel the economic interdependence between countries. My research considers such a strategy; the Belt and Road initiative (BRI). BRI, initiated by China, connects China with Asian, African, and some European countries via land and maritime networks, aiming to improve regional integration, facilitate trade and promote economic growth. It is associated with a great deal of investment and construction for developing infrastructure programs such as real estate, ports, railways, pipes, roads, and telecommunications networks. On the other hand, it is a Chinese-led bilateral trade mechanism, providing Beijing with an opportunity to disseminate the success model of economic growth and transfer Chinese urban planning and infrastructure standards. My research focuses on the phenomenon of the mobilization of planning standards from China to the BRI countries, which is theoretically equal to the concept of policy transfer. For example, UN-HABITAT has invited a Chinese planning unit to join in a construction aid project for Bidur city, where China’s planning design and standards were applied to Nepal’s national spatial planning system. I am interested in understanding Chinese actors’ experience in applying standards and the reflections of the countries that adopted the standards. Specifically, my research aims to explore and explain the opportunities and challenges in China’s transnational urban planning activities by means of scientific and systematic analysis of different parties involved in the transfer process and of the outcome by comparing different national contexts. I believe this will ultimately contribute to improving the policy change in planning practice.

Research Project: The opportunities and Challenges in Transferring Chinese Urban Planning Standards to the Belt and Road Countries

How are you progressing so far and what are your main findings?

So far, I have looked into the motivations and the Chinese practice of applying the standards to the BRI context. The primary finding is that China intends to create new business to transfer its overcapacity of the manufacturing industry and excessive capital to new markets. On the other hand, China aims to provide an alternative for the “Washington Consensus” which is the developmental model promoted by western countries. This western model is aimed at good governance and a neoliberal approach to economic development and has proven to be unsuccessful. Moreover, in terms of the transnational application of the standards, the Chinese actors found that they did not always smoothly apply these rules to the local context. For instance, the China Academy of Urban Planning and Design felt the Chinese standards with its own 'flavours' sometimes hard to adopt because of the challenges from international organizations' best practice and the legally, politically and culturally different national urban planning systems. For me, these findings are rather critical, as it not only shows the insufficient influence that China has on international governance but also leaves room for the actors to rethink the capability of the receiving actors to reconstruct the standards into the context, thus improving their ability to negotiate for the intended policy changes. 

In what way is your research project contributing to inclusive prosperity?

BRI aims to contribute to economic growth and eliminate poverty in most developing countries by developing the infrastructure through disseminating China's successful economic development model. Thus, my research lies at the core of economic prosperity and inclusive social dynamics and draws attention to the actors who have different capabilities, interest and natural or political resources to engage in the urban and infrastructural collaborations. In this way, my research is a way to understand one of the inclusive prosperity phenomena at the regional and international levels. Through empirical exploration and observation, I will try to understand practical complications and propose better policies.

What is the added value in doing your PhD at the Dynamics of Inclusive Prosperity Initiative?

My research on the regulatory changes in transnational urban planning projects is quite multi-disciplinary, and crosses the boundaries of law, public policy, international relations, geography and public administration. DoIP offers me academic support from supervisors who embrace the disciplines of law, public policy and international relations and give me the opportunity to creatively conduct my research and inspires me to be inclusive with different ideas. For example, DoIP enables me to learn about the international governance perspectives from lawyers, how a countries’ rules and standards influence the decision-making in other jurisdictions from policy analysts and about the geopolitical implications from international politicians.  

What are your ambitions for the future?

It is very encouraging and interesting to position myself in a multi-disciplinary environment, although challenges also lie ahead. I would like to find a conceptual perspective that better combines the legal and policy approach to understand the transfer phenomenon at hand. Practically, I hope my study will contribute to understanding the practical problems that emerge in the interaction between different parties, and in the final stage, I will have scientific and systematic alternatives to recommend to the governments in order to improve the policy coordination and to assist urban policy reforms.

PhD student
More information

Promotor: Prof. Martin de Jong (ESL/RSM)
2nd Promotor: Prof. Michael Faure (ESL)
Supervisor: Dr. Farhad Mukhtarov (ISS)

Starting date of PhD: September 2019
Expected end date: September 2023