Journal of Geographical Sciences ›› 2018, Vol. 28 ›› Issue (9): 1233-1248.doi: 10.1007/s11442-018-1522-9

• Orginal Article • Previous Articles     Next Articles

The structure and evolution of trade relations between countries along the Belt and Road

Zhigao LIU1,2(), Tao WANG1,2, Won SONN Jung3*, Won SONN Jung3   

  1. 1. Key Laboratory of Regional Sustainable Development Modeling, Institute of Geographic Sciences and Natural Resources Research, CAS, Beijing 100101, China
    2. School of Resources and Environment, University of Chinese Academy of Sciences, Beijing 100049, China
    3. Bartlett School of Planning, University College London, London, WC1N 3PR, United Kingdom
  • Received:2018-03-01 Accepted:2018-04-02 Online:2018-09-25 Published:2018-09-25
  • About author:

    Author: Liu Zhigao (1974-), PhD and Associate Professor, specialized in economic geography and regional development. E-mail:

  • Supported by:
    National Social Science Foundation of China, No.17VDL008;The Project of Bureau of International Cooperation of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, No.131A11KYSB20170014;National Natural Science Foundation of China, No.41530751, No.41471113, No.41701125;Ministry of Education of the Republic of Korea and the National Research Foundation of Korea, No.NRF-2015S1A3A2047036


Trade facilitation is one of the five main agendas of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). Social network analysis has helped understand the complexity of trade networks, but existing studies tend to overlook the fact that not all bilateral trade relations are equally important to a country. To fill this gap in the literature, this paper focuses on the top 2 trade relations networks to illuminate the structure and evolution of B&R trade relations, the relative positions of different countries, and changes in the composition of trade communities (e.g., the community leaders) and the changing patterns of trade between them. We find rich dynamics over time both inter- and intra-communities. The overall international trade networks of B&R countries experienced a leadership change from Russia to China on one hand, some temporary communities experienced emergence, disappearance (e.g. the Kuwait- and Thailand-led communities) or reemergence (e.g. Poland-led community), and a community membership was generally consistent on the other hand. Since the future impacts of China’s BRI will depend on the degree of integration of the connected regions, some countries with stable and high centrality indices (e.g. Russia, Singapore, Serbia, Greece, Turkey, Iran, Poland, Hungary and Romania) could be selected by China as strategic regional partners, and countries with a strategically important geographical position but weak trade links (e.g. Myanmar, Pakistan, and Belarus) should be prioritized.

Key words: The Belt and Road Initiative, international trade, community core detection, top trade partner