Galen Murton is an assistant professor in the Geographic Science Program in the School of Integrated Sciences at James Madison University (Harrisonburg, Virginia). He recently completed a Marie S. Curie fellowship at Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich on the project Road Diplomacy. His current research examines the geopolitical dimensions of post-disaster infrastructure development, and especially that of Chinese road construction in Himalayan regions of Nepal and Tibet. He received his BA from Middlebury College in 2000.


The Power of Blank Spaces: A critical cartography of China’s Belt and Road Initiative

A variety of maps depict a usefully approximate but inexact network of roads, rails, sea lanes, and other transport infrastructures to represent something called China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). And yet, for a global infrastructural program that reflects and advances Beijing’s ambition to become a leader of international development, BRI maps remain surprisingly imprecise and unofficial. Informed by previous “mappings of empire” (Edney 1999), I read BRI maps as “usefully fuzzy” (Nairn and Agnew 2019) texts of “cartographic silence” (Harley 2001) to show how they do work (Wood 2010) in the negative register of empty space. Examining the paradox between widespread Chinese developments across Highland Asia-Tibetan Plateau and the region’s conspicuous absence from many BRI maps, this paper highlights some fundamental connections between cartography and empire and underscores how mapping is both a strategic “state of the art” and an imperial “art of the state” (Mundy 1996).

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