The Belt and Road Initiative: China’s Geologistics Strategy

One Belt, One Road, Chinese strategic investment in the 21st century map

An analysis by Peter J. Rimmer

You may already be familiar with the terms geoeconomics and geopolitics, and even geoculture if you are a follower of Immanuel Wallerstein (1991). But if you want to comprehend the People’s Republic of China’s global ambitions for the 100th anniversary of its founding in 2049, there is an argument that you need to substitute the term geologistics for geoeconomics. This is not the first time that the word geologistics has been used. Geologistics was coined after the Second World War by Harry A. Sachaklian (1947) as an alternative for geopolitics because Karl Haushofer had used this term to underpin the rise of Germany’s Third Reich. However, geologistics did not survive as an alternative because geopolitics, as noted by Leszek Buszynski (2019), has continued not as a “theory” but as an “approach” for comprehending state behaviour and rivalry within a specific geographical setting. Consequently, geologistics is still available to be applied to China’s policy of capitalizing upon improvements within its domestic logistics system and transferring them beyond the country’s borders. This “inside-out system” described by Chen Xiangming (2018) is referred to here as geologistics, and reflected in constructing both the Silk Road Economic Belt across Eurasia and the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road traversing the world’s oceans (Fig. 1).

In 2013 China’s President Xi Jinping established the Belt and Road Initiative by invoking the spirit of the ancient Silk Road, which involved peaceful and cooperative activities associated with the free flows of people, goods and ideas across the steppes, deserts and oceans. This strategic use of historical narrative and heritage for geopolitical ends is seen by Tim Winter (2019) as capitalizing upon the traditional Chinese “civilizational state’s” geocultural potential, which has enabled the country to use its enhanced cross-border mobility and connectivity embodied in geologistics to seek regional and global primacy through the Belt and Road Initiative. In the process of establishing the Initiative, Wang Yiwei (2016: 11) sees China’s civilizational state being transformed for the first time in 5,000 years “from a hinterland civilization to a marine civilization, from an agricultural to an industrial-information civilization, and from a regional to a global civilization”.

Blog Map_Edited

Figure 1.1 China’s global reach. Silk Road Economic Belt — 1. First Eurasian (Northern) Landbridge; 2. Second Eurasian (Central) Landbridge; 3. Proposed Third Eurasian (Southern) Landbridge; 4. China-Central Asia-West Asia Economic Corridor; 5. China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC); 6. the China-Indochina Peninsula Economic Corridor (CIPEC); 7. Bangladesh-China-India-Myanmar (BCIM); and 21st Century Maritime Silk RoadBlue Economic Passages: 8. China-Indian Ocean-Mediterranean (Western Line); 9. China-Oceania-South Pacific (Southern Line); 10. China-Arctic/Polar Sea Road (Northern Line); and 11. China-Latin America and the Caribbean/Trans-Pacific Silk Road (Eastern Line).

Casting the Belt and Road Initiative within the ancient Silk Road framework does not mask the fact that its invocation was to address China’s contemporary internal issues. These have been marked by an unequal distribution of economic activities between provinces and cities, and loss of employment in the heavy industry sector. By the mid-2000s issues of capital glut, decreasing returns to capital and overproduction in aluminium, cement and steel were evident. This situation was aggravated by China’s imported oil and supplies having to navigate maritime choke points along sea lanes patrolled by the United States Navy.

To escape from these inherited dilemmas President Xi Jinping’s incoming government has sought from 2013 to take advantage of the success achieved by China in building air, land and sea transport, energy and telecommunications infrastructure to transform the domestic business landscape. From the late 1970s the government’s focus was concentrated on building special economic zones, pioneered in Shenzhen, and new and expanded ports along China’s eastern seaboard. This strategy accelerated exports of manufactured goods, boosted urbanization but compounded disparities with the rest of the country. To meet this shortfall, attention in the new millennium has been focused upon building high-speed railways, expressways, bridges, fibre-optic cable networks and pipelines to develop and integrate western China into the domestic logistic system. Once these were completed Beijing was in a position to bundle the abilities of workers in state-owned infrastructural enterprises and transfer these public goods beyond its borders as a ‘spatial fix’, a term coined by David Harvey (2001) to describe this strategy for alleviating a country’s internal structural issues. Not only did this geologistics policy of linking China’s internal logistics networks to external ones enable the country’s internationalizing companies to expand their export markets and take advantage of lower labour costs, but also it provided alternative imported gas and oil supplies, and smoothed the inflow of food and raw materials. Indeed, skills acquired in building infrastructure in China’s inland areas were apposite for the Silk Road Economic Belt across Eurasia and those developed in coastal areas were apt for the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road.

These geologistics developments have permitted Beijing to play a more assertive role at the centre of shaping and controlling the world economic system through the Belt and Road Initiative. In turn, this Initiative has prompted an array of differing reactions to China’s attempt at creating an alternative globalization (as explored by Nadège Rolland, 2020), with its own norms and standards. Across Eurasia the Silk Road Economic Belt, with its two landbridges, a potential third landbridge, an economic corridor and three secondary economic corridors integrating South and Southeast Asia, has split the European Union with some members joining those in strong or qualified support of its implementation (East European states, Russia and countries in Central Asia, South Asia, notably Pakistan, and Southeast Asia). leaving both France and Germany wary, and India in limbo. The 21st Century Maritime Silk Road stretches from the Indian Ocean via Africa to the Mediterranean, from the South China Sea to Oceania, the South Pacific and Antarctica, the Arctic Sea to northern Europe and the Northwest Passage to Greenland and across the Pacific to Latin America and the Caribbean. This has again provoked a differing response with support from Russia, a guarded reaction from a host of countries adjacent to the South China Sea, and opposition from India, Japan and the United States and its regional allies in the Pacific, notably Australia. These reactions are often distilled into an enduring “China versus United States” strategic contest; a rivalry exacerbated by Beijing adding a health dimension to the Belt and Road Initiative by using its framework to distribute medical equipment and supplies during the COVID-19 pandemic. Nevertheless, by the mid-21st century there will be a need to go beyond this contest and pay more attention to India and possibly Indonesia, particularly if past economic trends are re-established in a post-pandemic world and the Initiative bringing China to the forefront is not unduly upset by climate change affecting sea levels.


Buszynski, Leszek (2019). Geopolitics and the Western Pacific: China, Japan and the US. Abingdon, UK and New York, NY, US: Routledge.

Chen, Xiangming (2018). ‘Globalisation redux: Can China’s inside-out strategy catalyse economic development across its Asian borderlands and beyond’, Cambridge Journal of Regions Economy and Society 11(1): 35-58.

Harvey, David (2001). ‘Globalization and “the spatial fix”’, Geographsche Revue, 2(3): 23-31.

Rolland, Nadège (2020). ‘A “China Model”? Beijing’s promotion of alternative global norms and standards, Washington DC, USA: The National Bureau of Asian Research. Available at (accessed 20 May 2020).

Sachaklian, Harry A. (1947). ‘Geopolitics versus geologistics’, Air University Quarterly Review, 1(2): 53-63.

Wallerstein, Immanuel (1991). Geopolitics and Geoculture: Essays on the Changing World System. Cambridge, UK, New York, NY, USA: Cambridge University Press; and Paris, FR: Editions de la Maison des Sciences de L’Homme.

Winter, Tim (2019). Geocultural Power: China’s Quest to Revive the Silk Roads for the Twenty-First Century. Chicago. IL. USA: University of Chicago Books.

Wang, Yiwei (2018). ‘The opportunity of the Belt & Road’, China-US Focus

7 September 2018. Available at–road (accessed 2 January 2020).

Rimmer China
Due Nov 2020

China’s Global Vision and Actions
Reactions to Belt, Road and Beyond
By Peter J. Rimmer

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