New Book & Positive Review! – The Tropical Silk Road: The Future of China in South America

Generated by Orfalea Center Hosted Grants and Partnerships

We at the Orfalea Center for Global and International Studies are proud to announce the publication of a book that in turn results from three years of collaborative research with anthropologists, journalists, Indigenous community leaders, Chinese workers, activists and political analysts, and Black and Feminist organizers. This book, named The Tropical Silk Road: The Future of China in South America (Stanford University Press, 2022), aims to answer the question: How will China’s growing investments and finance as well as cultural and social relations with South America shift the future of the region? This major research collaboration, and the set of studies, teaching resources, and policy papers that the book brings together, was supported by major extramural funding from the Ford Foundation and our collaborations with the Security in Context network, in addition to the the Paul Orfalea Endowment itself.  We are pleased to share the early, positive review that has been published of the book and to thank all the UCSB students, colleagues, and research partners in Ecuador and Brazil who made this possible.

In the introduction to the book, the co-editors state that in the years 2016–2019, a wave of right-wing populism swept Latin America, derailing many of the progressive projects launched during the Pink Tide era. As new authoritarian-populist learning leaders espoused anti-Chinese sentiment and anti-Asian racism, it seemed that China’s leverage in South America might be lost. However, in 2020 many governments around the world retreated into radical isolationism and atavistic nationalism. As the book co-editors stated in their introduction, “the COVID-19 pandemic triggered the collapse of financial markets and exposed the catastrophic incapacity of the anti-developmentalist political coalition. China moved into this gap, propping up state and local government infrastructure and healthcare budgets across the region, and reviving partnerships that had been frozen since the end of the Pink Tide era.”The co-editors ask, “What does this new Tropical Silk Road and this ‘inevitable’ courtship or marriage between China and South America look like for communities and ecologies on the ground?’ This is the very question that the book, The Tropical Silk Road: The Future of China in South America  attempts to answer. 

This book examines the current state and future of diplomatic relationships, infrastructure investments, megaproject partnerships, social relations and cultural (mis)understandings between China and Brazil and Ecuador in South America.The Director of the Orfalea Center for Global and International Studies, Professor Paul Amar, co-edited this volume with his colleagues Profs Lisa Rofel, Maria Amelia Viteri, Consuelo Fernandez-Salvador and Fernando Brancoli. 

“The book is based upon more than 30 case studies of hydroelectric dams, mining projects, transportation and port service facilities, all seen through the eyes of Black, Feminist and local Indigenous movements, social movements, community resistance and also a broad array of Chinese stakeholders, Chinese social media influencers, labor organizers, businesspeople and environmental activists,” said co-editor Dr. Paul Amar in a webinar discussion put on by the Orfalea Center on this very topic. Together these offer a groundbreaking analysis of China’s presence in South America,” He continued, “The book provides a less geopolitical and more grounded set of case studies and activist [perspectives] that illuminate these conversations.”

Stanford University Press, in describing the book, states, “As cracks in the progressive legacy of the Pink Tide and the failures of ecocidal right-wing populisms shape new political economies and geopolitical possibilities, this book provides a grassroots-based account of a post-US centered world order, and an accompanying map of the stakes for South America that highlights emerging voices and forms of resistance.” 

A flattering review for the Tropical Silk Road has been published by Matthew Abel in NACLA (North American Congress on Latina America) Report on the Americas. 

In this review, Abel states that the book is a “refreshing departure from the staid analysis of U.S. investors and business elites. The editors combine primary research material with activist testimony to reflect on the social and eco- logical consequences of Chinese investments in South American manufacturing, hydroelectric infrastructure, transnational grain trading, and large-scale industrial mining.” The reviewer continues, pointing out how the book illustrates how Chinese capital impacts communities, “and as Gustavo Oliveira puts it, [is] ‘refracted’ across a hierarchical landscape of politicians, workers, local activists, and comprador elites.”

The NACLA review highlights that “[t]his volume is as ambitious as it is eclectic, and its contributors bring a range of valuable insights to bear on some of the most important political and economic developments facing the region. As South American countries have tacked between the neoliberal extreme of the Washington Consensus and the developmentalist policies of the Beijing Consensus, one registers a profound sense of indeterminacy within the global political and economic order that has only been exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic. What some contributors refer to as a “fragmentation” in national governing coalitions and “asynchronized political cycles” over the past 10 years point toward broader shifts within the global capitalist political economy as China challenges U.S. hegemony in the region. Social scientists and activists are in desperate need of new theoretical tools for making sense of this changing state of affairs.”

Abel concludes the review highlighting that the book is also useful for students and a primer. “The Tropical Silk Roadprovides an important starting point. Its diverse group of contributors invoke overlapping (and at many points competing!) theoretical frameworks that will provide students and practitioners with a comprehensive introduction to China’s growing influence in South America and the region’s shifting position within the global economy.”

If you or your colleagues are interested in purchasing the book, please click here. Instructions for international shipping can be found there as well

The Orfalea Center for Global and International Studies also hosted a webinar on this very topic. Each of our webinar panelists contributed a chapter to this unique book. For those interested in reading an article summarizing the webinar discussions, you may click the link here

This work has been funded by a generous grant by the Ford Foundation. This work has been supported by our strong collaboration and shared thematic vision with the Security in Context network. 

Page Editor

Omar Mansour
Omar Mansour
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