China and Inner Asia
Verena La Mela
University of Fribourg, Switzerland
At the Khorgos Dry Port – a high security special economic zone at the China-Kazakhstan border – an intricate channeling of people and goods takes place. People like Gulmira, a female shuttle trader regularly passing the Khorgos border from the Kazakh side, buy goods from China for a wholesale price and sell them at a profit in Kazakhstan. Shuttle trade is considered to be illegal but tolerable by the Kazakh state. The opening of the International Center for Border Cooperation, a free trade zone half in each country, has complicated this regime. This paper examines how mobility infrastructures such as the ICBC are utilized by both states to manage shuttle traders’ mobility and the transport of goods. The paper, based on data collected during 16 months of ethnographic field research at the Sino-Kazakh border between 2016 and 2019, explores mobility regimes and the ways they materialize at China's Inner Asian borders through infrastructures. This paper contributes to the conversation about mobility and infrastructure from an anthropological perspective. The concept of bounded mobilities takes into account different forms of mobility and sees it as undergirded by regimes and relations of power (Schwarz et al. 2016). The governing of mobility in Khorgos allows us to understand how different asymmetries are created. I ask: In which ways and for whom are mobilities bounded? How do different underlying infrastructures facilitate and curb mobility? Does their nominal purpose correspond to their actual effects?