Journal of Geographical Sciences ›› 2021, Vol. 31 ›› Issue (5): 623-640.doi: 10.1007/s11442-021-1862-8

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Theorizing Belt and Road construction mode from institutional and cultural perspectives

LIU Weidong1,2(), YAO Qiuhui1,2   

  1. 1. Key Laboratory of Regional Sustainable Development Modeling, Institute of Geographic Sciences and Natural Resources Research, CAS, Beijing 100101, China
    2. College of Resources and Environment, University of Chinese Academy of Sciences, Beijing 100049, China
  • Received:2020-11-04 Accepted:2021-03-02 Online:2021-05-25 Published:2021-07-25
  • About author:Liu Weidong, PhD and Professor, specialized in economic geography, regional development and the Belt and Road Initiative studies. E-mail:
  • Supported by:
    Strategic Priority Research Program of Chinese Academy of Sciences(XDA20080000)


There is a gap between the great vision and high-quality targets of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) and Western recognition of them, which challenges Chinese and Western scholars. This gap should be narrowed by conducting in-depth case studies and comparative studies at the project level. In recent years, the international academic community has paid increasing attention to Chinese outward foreign direct investment (FDI), but Belt and Road construction is much broader in scope, comprising not only FDI projects but also China-financed projects and emerging mixed projects. Our investigation, observation, and examination of the BRI projects find that compared to their Western counterparts, Chinese enterprises have less experience in doing business in other countries and often pay less attention to institutional and cultural differences between China and the host countries. Thus, revisiting the institutional and cultural turn in economic geography and employing its ideas to analyze the BRI projects and summarize their construction modes may contribute to the development of both economic geography and the BRI. This paper first briefly reviews the background and research trends of the institutional and cultural turn and then summarizes three major modes of Belt and Road construction, namely, EPC (Engineering Procurement Construction)-based projects, concession-based projects, and FDI; finally, it draws on the institutional and cultural turn to classify the BRI projects according to the two indicators of “Breadth and Depth of Territorial Embeddedness” and “Destructive Effect of a Project and/or Technology” into four types: transformative, supportive, ordinary projects and overseas industrial cooperation parks. Different institutional and cultural sensitivity can be observed for each type of project. The preliminary theorization proposed in this paper may offer a potential framework for further research on the BRI.

Key words: Belt and Road Initiative, institutional and cultural difference, financing structure, high-quality development, territorial embeddedness