IILJ Working Paper 2021/5 (Infrareg Series)

Infrastructural Developmentalism and its Many Types of Global Law

 A Comparison between the UN Sustainable Development Goals and China’s Belt & Road Initiative

Alejandro Rodiles

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Today, we are witnessing the making, operation, and evolution of two gigantic development programs at the global level: the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), adopted by the General Assembly in 2015, and China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), launched by President Xi Jinping in 2013. Perceived and real ideological differences notwithstanding, BRI and SDGs place infrastructures at the very heart of global development, strongly favoring pragmatism and immediate responsiveness. This paper analyzes the relations of this new developmental paradigm with law. By resorting to the Infrastructures as Regulation project (InfraReg), it focuses on the regulatability and regulatory effects of physical, informational, and digital infrastructures underlying both initiatives. The fluid re-arrangement of public and private, formal and informal legal frameworks regulating BRI indicate the emergence of a transnational legal infrastructure tied to and facilitated by material pragmatism, which stands in tension with China’s rhetorical embracement of international law as we know it. The implementation infrastructure of SDGs, on its part, reveals a resilience-driven governance style that is hard to reconcile with the futurity attached to the idea of (international) law. Although these findings would suggest a retreat from international law (and with it a decline of the international rule of law), the paper makes the case that actually many types of international and global law are emerging and resurfacing from infrastructural developmentalism which coexist in mutually determining and evolving ways. The hard question remains, nonetheless, whether such a relational condition can uphold the aspiration of order at the global level.