The Newsletter 90 Autumn 2021

IIAS Fellow in the spotlight: Rafael Abrão

Rafael Abrão

IIAS Research Cluster: Global Asia 1 Sept 2020 – 30 Aug 2022

Home Institute: Federal University of ABC (UFABC), São Paolo, Brazil

The Belt and Road Initiative: challenges and opportunities to Latin America

It was a perfect moment to arrive in the Netherlands in September 2021. Considering that almost all Covid restrictions were gone, I was able to enjoy the end of the summer. I was born and raised in Brazil, and this is my first time working abroad and experiencing a new culture. Leiden is a lovely place, and I quickly fell in love with the city's historic centre and lifestyle. I have also explored local culture, visiting other cities such as Utrecht, Nieuwegein, Amsterdam, The Hague, and Rotterdam.

It feels like I'm taking a big step in my career. Having the opportunity to conduct my research in a diverse work environment such as IIAS is, of course, the most valuable point in this first international experience that I am having. If you wonder what brought an Afro-Latino Brazilian researcher to Asian Studies, it is pretty straightforward. The geopolitical interactions between Asia and Latin America are usually underestimated, which caught my attention in the first place. Most Asia researchers tend to look to other regions, thereby neglecting the relevance of China to Latin America and Latin America to China. My research at IIAS aims to partially cover this gap, at least where it concerns China's Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). The BRI is an effort to consolidate China's influence in Asia, Africa, Europe, and, more recently, also Latin America. China has advanced its presence in the region through investments, financing, and expanding its companies' activities. Since 2018, Latin American countries have been officially invited to join the initiative, and Chinese officials have labelled the region as a natural extension of the BRI. My project looks at the challenges and opportunities of the BRI to Latin America under the guidance of Prof. Mehdi Parvizi Amineh, who is the coordinator of one of the BRI projects at IIAS.

Here, in Leiden, I have the chance to discuss and widen my perspectives by interacting with other researchers and discovering a wide range of new sources. I plan to use the IIAS and Leiden University facilities, including the Asian Studies collection at the library, to expand my knowledge of China. Getting in touch with other investigators based in the Netherlands is also part of the plan—not only from Asian Studies but also from the Department of Latin American Studies at Leiden University and other institutions. During my stay, I hope to contribute to the academic and cultural environment of IIAS by adding a Latin American flavour.