Visualizing China’s Belt and Road Initiative on RT (Russia Today): from infrastructural project to human development

Carolijn van Noort*, Precious N Chatterje-Doody

*Corresponding author for this work

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This paper comprises original research on China’s use of bilateral media cooperation to mediate its Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). Building upon the literature on strategic narratives, aesthetic power and the Silk Road as a foreign policy concept, we present a detailed case study of the visual imagery of the ‘Silk Road’ documentary collaboration between China’s and Russia’s state-owned international broadcasters, China Radio International and RT (formerly Russia Today). We employ a visual methodology to interrogate the formation and projection of multimodal (visual, textual and oral) narratives about China’s infrastructural activities along this metaphorical new ‘Silk Road’. We examine how the Silk Road series gives sense to China’s BRI, the relative weighting of Chinese and Russian strategic narratives about the BRI, and how far this Chinese-Russian media partnership is strategic. Our analysis reveals that in re-packaging visual imagery that applies nostalgia to the history of core places and technologizes their future, the series projects a pre-curated Chinese visual narrative that emplots the BRI as human and cultural development. Russian regional strategic narratives are marginalized. China is applying its aesthetic power to Russian journalists and politicians; RT obtains some commercial benefits, but the Russian state’s aesthetic power is ceded to China. Therefore, while both China and Russia gain from cultural co-productions such as the Silk Road series, aesthetic power derived from this production is uneven, serving Chinese strategic interests primarily. This paper illustrates the differentiated opportunities and limits of visually reinterpreting strategic narratives by means of media partnerships.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages29
JournalEurasian Geography and Economics
Early online date22 Dec 2021
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 22 Dec 2021


  • Belt and Road Initiative
  • state-media relations
  • strategic narratives
  • visual politics
  • aesthetic power


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