Event — Call for papers

In the Shadow of the New Silk Road (ICAS 11 workshop)

IIAS-Clingendael Workshop at ICAS 11, 18–19 July 2019. Deadline call for papers: 31 October 2018

IIAS-Clingendael Workshop at ICAS 11, 18–19 July 2019.

Deadline: 31 October 2018 (i.e before 1 November)
ICAS 11 conference dates: 18–19 July 2019 


Long before China promulgated the official One Belt, One Road initiative (OBOR), vast networks of cross-border exchanges have already existed across Asia and Eurasia. The dynamics of these trade and resource flows have largely been outside state control, and have been pushed to the realm of the shadow or informal economy. China’s official initiative, however, is a state-driven attempt to facilitate orderly transboundary flows of resources across the OBOR space, which simultaneously would enable the participating states to extend their control of the shadow economies. Yet, it remains unclear how the current Shadow Silk Road will be coordinated and governed in the future. Understanding instances of “grey governance” and their interactions with state-centred governance thus bears both theoretical and policy implications.

In order to guarantee the safe passage of goods via the trade routes and enable all states along the route to benefit economically, informal activities have to be addressed in a cooperative way. Knowledge about border trade, traffic links, as well as existing and envisaged security arrangements are vital for investment decisions and the design of international cooperation to implement OBOR. These issues are also essential for OBOR’s role in Europe. For several years, the European Union has been impacted by flows of illegal immigrants and contraband goods. Illegal activities of organised crime – such as drugs, arms, and human trafficking – and extremist terrorism are partially associated with these flows. Accordingly, the construction and future use of new traffic links also need to be studied from a security perspective. If security concerns remain unanswered, it will be impossible to reap the benefits of more diverse transcontinental trade routes.

This workshop builds on insights from presentations and discussions during two previous workshops on Cross-border Exchange and the Shadow Economy (held at IIAS in Leiden, December 2015) and on the Shadow Silk Road: Non-state Flow of Commodity, Capital, and People across Eurasia (held at Hang Seng Management College, Hong Kong, May 2017).

Objectives of the workshop

This 1.5-day workshop seeks to understand “informality” related to OBOR activities in two distinct ways. First, it addresses shadow exchanges such as organised crime and corruption that are enabled or resisted by increasing transnational trade links, but are not necessarily intended by official policies. Second,  the workshop sheds lights on actions that appear to be legitimate in the context of Chinese cooperation with other OBOR states, but may be problematic from the perspective of other countries or in the context of supranational governance. In fact, several (proposed) projects that involve EU member states seem to contravene EU law or common policies and thus weaken EU governance.

Specifically, we seek to explore the following questions:

  1. Securing trade routes: Which informal activities affect cross-regional trade routes under the New Silk Road? Are security arrangements discussed or envisaged by the Chinese authorities and national governments in Eurasia? How do security issues in the broadest sense reshape the design and implementation of OBOR cooperation?
  2. Transnational governance: How do the European Commission, individual EU member states, and other Eurasian states respond to OBOR projects? How are cross-border projects financed and coordinated?  What government bodies, companies, NGOs, etc. are involved? How is the cooperation implemented, regulated, and supervised?
  3. Grey governance: What groups/communities are affected by OBOR? What existing activities run into conflict or are even compatible with official OBOR projects? How are emerging conflicts resolved or contained? How effective is the coordination of shadow networks in this regard?


This workshop will be organised within the 11th International Convention of Asia Scholars (ICAS 11) as a 1.5-day event. It seeks to bring together academics, policymakers, and practitioners and will address issues that pertain to their fields of expertise and practice. The first day will be an academic workshop, alongside other ICAS panels. We are expecting about 12 to15 academic papers. The papers will be organized into three panel sessions on 18 July 2019.

The fourth panel session of 18 July 2019 will be organized in the form of a roundtable/book launch. The findings of the two previous workshops will be presented and discussed in the roundtable. The results of both workshops will be published in the first half of 2019. The first is a special issue on “Cross-border Shadow Exchanges and Checkpoint Politics,” to be published in the Journal of Contemporary Asia. The second is an edited volume entitled Shadow Economies across the New Silk Road, to be published by Amsterdam University Press under the Global Asia series.

The half-day event on 19 July will be organized in the form of an interactive expert meeting. It seeks to bring together researchers, policymakers, and business people. The expert meeting will highlight the practical side of transnational cooperation along the Silk Road and the effects of informal activities on security issues and the business environment in general. This expert seminar will be hosted in The Hague. It will be coordinated by the Netherlands Institute of International Relations Clingendael. In the past few years, Clingendael has hosted several high-level events on the implementation of OBOR related to the political economy of western and central Europe and, particularly, to the position of the Netherlands as an important trading hub with its traditionally close trade relations with China as well as with all major industrial economies in Europe. For instance, the implementation of OBOR featured during expert meetings held in June 2016 and December 2016 when representatives of the EU External Action Service and the European Commission discussed the new Global Strategy of the European Union and its infrastructure investments plans in relation to the continental leg of OBOR. The planned expert meeting will thus be organised as a follow-up of these successful and insightful debates between policymakers, academics, and business people. By focusing on matters related to EU governance and grey governance along the Shadow Silk Road, the expert meeting as well as the academic panels fully consider ICAS 11’s topic of “Asia and Europe, Asia in Europe.”

Submission instructions

An abstract of not more than 500 words should be submitted, with a short CV, through the form available on our website – https://forms.iias.asia/submission-form-shadow-new-silk-road – before 1 November 2018.  Selected submissions will be notified before 30 November 2018.

The workshop will take place in Leiden, the Netherlands, during ICAS 11. Participants will be able to attend other ICAS panels. Participants should take care of their own travel and hotel expenses.

Contact information

The workshop is jointly organized by the IIAS Centre for Regulation and Government and  Clingendael Institute, The Hague. It will be convened by Tak-Wing Ngo, Susann Handke, and Frans-Paul van der Putten. For any enquires about the workshop, please contact the convenors at icasshadoweconomy@gmail.com.