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The economic corridors paradigm as extractivism: Four theses for a historical materialist framework

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  31 May 2021

Charlie Thame*
Faculty of Political Science, Thammasat University, Bangkok, Thailand
*Corresponding author: Email:


Economic corridors are under construction across the planet. Trillions of dollars are being spent and they will have significant implications for international politics and, ultimately, world order. However, there has been limited conceptual work on them to date, especially in International Relations. This article contributes to that gap by explaining the dominant rationale before offering a conceptualisation of economic corridors as an essentially extractivist paradigm. This counter-hegemonic proposition revolves around four relational theses: (1) economic corridors are a ‘fix’ for crises of capitalism; (2) economic corridors exacerbate class struggle; (3) economic corridors are tools for exploitation; (4) economic corridors facilitate financial extraction. In so doing it unmasks the dominant rationale as ideological cover for valorisation and accumulation based on extractive and exploitative relations with human and extra-human nature. Rather than contributing to inclusive and sustainable development as proponents claim, the article contends economic corridors reinforce power asymmetries between states, countries, and classes, thereby extending and entrenching processes of uneven and combined development. The argument is substantiated with empirical reference to mainland Southeast Asia but aims to advance understanding of extractive dynamics integral to the concept of economic corridors and hence operative worldwide.

Research Article
Copyright © The Author(s) 2021. Published by Cambridge University Press on behalf of the British International Studies Association

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