China’s Borderlands in Transition

Department: Landscape Architecture
Research Centre: Architecture, Urbanism, and the Humanities Initiative
Active Dates: December 2016 –

Project Team:
Principal Investigator: Xiaoxuan Lu
Research Assistant: CHEN Xubin Aristo

OBORobs, HKUrbanLabs, Faculty of Architecture, HKU


China’s borderlands are playing a significant role in current Chinese initiatives to create transnational China-centric development corridors. This is especially true of the nation’s “Belt and Road Initiative,” an effort to generate prosperity by creating a new Silk Road that expands trade and energy links between China, Asia, Africa, and Europe. The economic core regions implicated in the Belt and Road Initiative have been discussed extensively in the media and in public policy reviews. In contrast, little attention has been paid to the dramatic transitions to which the diverse populations and landscapes of the affected borderlands are being subjected.

Today, twentieth-century efforts to secure closed borders are being replaced by endeavors to establish cross-border collaboration, exemplified in the increasing numbers of transnational transportation and energy infrastructures as well as in Special Economic Zones (SEZ) or Free Trade Zones (FTZ) straddling the border between China and its neighboring countries. These include the Bolshoy Ussuriysky SEZ (2010) on the Chinese-Russian border, the Hwanggumpyong FTZ (2011) on the border of China and North Korea, the Khorgos SEZ on the China-Kazakh border (2014), and Erenhot Economic Cooperation Zone on the border of China and Mongolia (2016). These multilateral projects that aim to boost transportation connectivity and economic cooperation in border regions are not just game-changing catalysts of international cooperation and commerce. They also call for the reconceptualization of the conventional Core-Periphery and Heartland-Hinterland divisions.

Under the leadership of Dr. Lu, the China’s Borderlands in Transition segment of HKU’s One Belt One Road Observatory (OBORObs) aims to devise a first of its kind digital atlas of development projects built on China’s borderlands. This atlas – which combines essays, maps, and videos – is an illustrated comprehensive survey of China’s borderlands in transition. It relies on quantitative analyses of borderland development that draw from cultural, environmental, typological, and economic phenomena. Focusing on borderland development projects along five Economic Corridors currently under the umbrella of China’s Belt and Road Initiative, this atlas explores what new developments mean for the ecologies of these regions. The project also aims to devise innovative, ecologically viable, and economically profitable frameworks for borderland development.

Enlarge Photo: 01 SelectedPorts © Xiaoxuan LuEnlarge Photo: 02 timeline © Xiaoxuan LuEnlarge Photo: 03 compare_crop © Xiaoxuan LuEnlarge Photo: 04 central asia_01_45 degree_crop © Xiaoxuan LuEnlarge Photo: 05 central asia_02_45 degree_crop © Xiaoxuan Lu Enlarge Photo: 06 central asia_03_45 degree crop © Xiaoxuan Lu Enlarge Photo: 07 central asia_04_45 degree_crop © Xiaoxuan LuEnlarge Photo: 08 central asia_05_45 degree_crop © Xiaoxuan Lu