AAG 2019 CFP: China, Tourism and (Soft) Power.


AAG 2019 CFP: China, Tourism and (Soft) Power.
AAG Washington DC: 3-7 April 2019
Specialty Group Sponsors: Recreation, Tourism, & Sport,

Michael O’Regan, PhD, Bournemouth University, United Kingdom.
Jaeyeon Choe, PhD, Bournemouth University, United Kingdom.

While there has been considerable scholarly work on soft power and the Belt and Road initiative (BRI), the political and economic investment in Chinese outbound tourism deserves greater attention. Whereas the number of trips abroad taken by Chinese citizens was in the tens of thousands in the 1980s, the current figure is well over 130m per year. While it may remain a marginal phenomenon in demographic or trade terms, tourism is a crucial issue in contemporary China, a major object of governmentality and a means to push soft power initiatives to receptive countries. As China exercises soft power using outbound tourism (and arts and culture more broadly), the growth of Chinese tourism has on the surface benefited the economies of Southeast Asian countries, who were traditionally reliant on long-haul, seasonal travellers from the west.

However, the confluence of tourism with nationalism and soft power agendas in China has seen recent ‘unofficial’ boycotts and tourist ‘bans’ against tourism to Palau, South Korea and Taiwan, while Chinese tourists have been allegedly ‘mistreated’ in tourist destinations, and a terrorist attack in Bangkok in 2015. Tourism has been used by the Chinese authorities to enforce the construction of borders and boundaries in the South China Sea, leading to rising tensions. Just as many countries have eased their visa requirements for Chinese tourists, China has increasingly sought to police ‘low-end’ tourists who might undermine the Chinese authorities as they attempt to boost their influence on the international stage. The authorities have sought to attract members of the overseas Chinese community to Chinese through Root-Seeking Tour Summer Camps, organized by the Overseas Chinese Affairs Office of the State Council, so as to teach the Chinese language and culture. Meanwhile, overseas Chinese ‘Tuidang’ volunteers and Falun Gong practitioners seek out Chinese tourists in popular tourist locations around the globe to questions the legitimacy of the Chinese Communist Party. Questions have emerged about the linkages between tourism and politics, tourism and human rights, tourism and international migration patterns, and the impact of returning Chinese tourists on Chinese society.

These questions place the landscapes of Chinese tourists into a broader context. It demands geographers consider transregional dynamics and politics, to explore tourism’s broader links to Chinese strategic interests. Chinese media increasingly highlight the growth of outbound tourism to particular counties, potential revenue and links to BRI. While pitched as tourism projects, China has been accused of hiding its search for political, economic and military influence through tourism. As tourism projects embed infrastructure that supports the development of trade routes (global network of rail, roads, ports, pipelines, fibre-optic cables), does Chinese investment bring wealth, or is it mainly kept within a closed loop of overseas Chinese communities and state linked businesses?

In Forest City, Johor Bahru (Malaysia), Chinese tourists are encouraged to buy Chinese-built apartments in a US$100 billion development mean to boast international schools, shopping malls, hotels and an immigration center for approximately 700,000 Chinese residents. The construction of the $1.4bn (£1.1bn) Port City project in Sri Lanka by the state-owned Chinese engineering firm China Communications Construction Company (CCCC) on 665 acres (2.6 sq km) of land is been marketed as a new Dubai, with luxury hotels, shopping malls and a marina. In Koh Kong’s Botum Sakor and Kiri Sakor districts in Cambodia, Union Development Group (UDG), a subsidiary of state-owned Chinese real estate developer Wanlong Group control around 20% of the Cambodia’s total coastline, as they develop the US$3.8 billion Dara Sakor project. It is expected to offer a port, an airport, hotels and a golf course. Others projects include the ‘Golden Triangle Special Economic Zone’ in Laos and MNC Lido City in Indonesia.
While China pledges that BRI will be open, transparent and environmentally friendly, many of these projects lack transparency and accountability. There are concerns that the standard 99-year leases for these project will lead to social, economic and environmental challenges, such as opaque funding, exorbitant claims of their tourism potential, corruption, and population displacement. Questions are emerging as the differences between these projects and the past/current ones dominated by the West? For example, questions have emerged about the economic benefit of Asia Infrastructure and Investment Bank (AIIB) loans to tourism projects, such as the Mandalika Urban and Tourism Infrastructure Project in Indonesia.

While the BRI spans 65 different countries, Chinese tourism, more broadly, holds the potential to redefine tourism, infrastructure, economies and even the governance of many more countries, as Beijing establishes its own norms, rules and institutions. We invite scholars to submit theoretical work, case studies and empirical research, for the purpose of expanding our understanding of Chinese outbound tourism. This session seeks papers that address Chinese outbound tourism of all kinds, which might include the following. Papers not relating to Chinese outbound tourism, but the broader topic will also be considered.

– Chinese outbound tourism and migration.
– Discourses around the ‘Chinese tourist’ in the west and China.
– Case studies on BRI linked tourism projects.
– Tourism and the construction of borders and boundaries.
– The Political Economy of Tourism Development.
– Political Geographies.
– Chinese use of the Approved Destination Status (ADS) scheme.
– Anti-Chinese rhetoric & Sinophobia around Chinese tourists.
– Chinese tourist perceptions, motivations and practices.
– Historical evolution of Chinese tourism policies.
– Key themes within China’s tourism policy narratives.
– Opposition to specific forms of Chinese tourism e.g. Casinos.
– Chinese Tourism Development and Sustainability.
– Chinese Tourism and Geopolitics (bans, boycotts).
– Chinese tourists and governmentality.
– Chinese Tourist Geographies.
– BRI projects and intercultural communications.
– Weaponization of Tourism.

Interested participants should submit an abstract (under 250 words) to the organizers for consideration by October 15, 2018: moregan@bournemouth.ac.uk; jchoe@bournemouth.ac.uk