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In Session: Re-imagining Borderland Governance: Transforming Natural and Social Spaces in East and Southeast Asia
2: Rule through Rubber: Plantations and State Formation in the Sino-Lao Borderlands
Monday, March 22, 2021
12:30pm – 2:00pm EDT
Cornell University, United States
The boom in large-scale land acquisitions by agribusiness investors, a phenomenon described as the ‘global land grab’, depicts the spread of plantation investments across the global South as a new, sudden, largely foreign investor-driven affair. I argue instead that Chinese rubber plantations represent the most recent iteration of long-standing Chinese and Lao state strategies of territorialization along the Sino-Lao border. I examine the history of rubber in Yunnan Province, where rubber plantations were initially established as semi-military settler colonial projects aimed at drawing Han Chinese into Xishuangbanna, the Dai Autonomous Region of southern Yunnan. I then compare this to the spread of rubber throughout northern Laos, where I argue that rubber has constituted a continuation of decades-old Lao state efforts to tame and make legible the mountainous landscapes of northern Laos. This research aims to contribute to scholars of global China and the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) who are calling for greater recognition of how BRI projects intersect with longer histories of Chinese state territorial efforts, translated into domestic resource governance interventions especially in China’s border regions, as well as recognition of the agency of host country actors in determining project success of Chinese investments overseas.