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Capital accumulation, territoriality, and the reproduction of state sovereignty in China: Is this “new” state capitalism?

Lookup NU author(s): Dr Kean Fan Lim



This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (CC BY 4.0).


The portrayals of “new state capitalism” in both the popular media and policy-making circles have become a potent geopolitical category. This politically realist categorization is understandably popular because of its simplicity—states proactively participating in capital accumulation are construed as threats to institutions underpinning the “free market”. This paper complicates this portrayal by framing what appears to be a “rise” of state capitalistic maneuvers from China as a dynamic sovereignty–accumulation nexus. Specifically, Chinese state capitalism—and arguably state capitalism in general—constitutes the reproduction of sovereign rule. Underpinning this tension-filled process is territoriality: the use of territory for political, economic, and social ends. This dynamic relationship will be illustrated through an examination of how and why Yunnan, a southwestern Chinese province that was economically marginalized for several decades, emerged as a geostrategic platform for facilitating new rounds of capital accumulation. Through large-scale infrastructural investments in Yunnan, the Chinese state generated new territorial configurations that (a) enabled the positioning of Yunnan as a “bridgehead” of Chinese economic statecraft and (b) encouraged investments aimed at capturing new growth opportunities. While this state-led developmental process partially resolves tensions generated by previous rounds of capital accumulation, it also generates new tensions. Building on this case study, the paper demonstrates how Chinese state capitalism more accurately exemplifies a state-building process that is embedded in and is constituted by a central contradiction between the territorial and capitalistic logics of power. It concludes by presenting two directions for future research on Chinese state capitalism.

Publication metadata

Author(s): Su X, Lim KF

Publication type: Article

Publication status: Published

Journal: Environment and Planning A: Economy and Space

Year: 2022

Pages: ePub ahead of Print

Online publication date: 18/04/2022

Acceptance date: 24/03/2022

Date deposited: 16/05/2022

ISSN (print): 0308-518X

ISSN (electronic): 1472-3409

Publisher: Sage


DOI: 10.1177/0308518X221093643


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Funder referenceFunder name
National Natural Science Foundation of China