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On and Off the BRI Map: A Story of the Darwin Port, Australia

Darwin Port
Julie Miao

The Port of Darwin shows the potential of China's Belt and Road Initiative as social infrastructure, but also the challenges in materializing its benefits.

The case of Darwin Port reveals the emerging infrastructural geopolitics of great powers competition. The effort of Darwin in getting on the map of the intercontinental Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) demonstrates how the BRI is catalyzing this competition, and how that competition is manifesting Chinese opportunism and heightened security concerns in specific locales.

At the same time, new linkages forged through the BRI have repositioned cities in the global core-periphery relationships. The resulting reconfiguration of state spatiality through multi-layer, multi-scalar arrangements denies the easy division of “domestic” and “international,” pushing cities to the frontiers of geopolitical negotiation and reimagination. 

Strictly speaking, Darwin represents those cities “off” the BRI map in terms of the industrialization and urbanization that may accompany the trade, aid, and investment from China, and the framing of opportunities offered by involvement in the BRI prior to COVID-19.

Yet as one of the few Australian projects materialized via Chinese investment with an explicit desire of integrating onto the BRI map, the case of Darwin is also representative of local initiatives and regional mobilizing powers that could, from time to time, overcome (inter)national geopolitical hurdles and popular nationalism.

About the Authors
Julie Miao
Julie Miao
Julie Miao is an Australian Research Council Discovery Research Fellow and Associate Professor in Property and Economic Development at the University of Melbourne. She holds honorary positions at Harvard, Shanghai Jiaotong, Hong Kong, and Adelaide universities.
Julie Miao