Summary of client meeting #1 – and the next​ steps

The following is the summary of a team meeting with Robert, held on February 28th at Hertie. We were also joined by Prof. Thomas O’ Donnell. This blog contain the minutes of the meeting, the ideas that were pitched to the meeting, important tips to keep in mind, and the new tasks for next week.

Everyone was present and actively contributed to the discussion. The focus of the meeting was:

  • Discuss our ideas, the outline of the research, and general concerns
  • Receive feedback from the client
  • Incorporate suggestions of the client
  • Modify the focus of the research according to his preferences and needs. 

Once we all got together, we first did:

  • Rounds of presentation of the team (names, nationality, academic and professional background, and reasons for choosing the project)
  • Set the agenda:
    • Overview of the structure
    • Comments on the current structure
    • Brainstorm new possible leads

The first decision we took was to abandon the strictly geography-driven approach to the research, focused on BRI and Central Asia. Mostly for this reason: by only focusing on Central Asia, we would not be able to boil down the salient aspects of BRI and risk to remain superficial in out conclusions because of the vastity of it. The client agreed with us, and we decided to adopt a topic-driven approach instead.

The first part of the discussion centred on the Gobitec project and on how it might be connected to the BRI. According to our findings, Gobitec is an initiative parallel to BRI and, therefore, not strictly connected. Many are the interesting questions, among them: is it a multilateral initiative? Is it a new form of multilateralism? Can we consider it a new model of infrastructure investment in the region? Available data are not sufficient to draw a conclusion, therefore, we decided to abandon this lead for the time being.

The second part of the discussion pointed to several considerations about the Asian Super Grid. In particular, a new research question was pitched: analyse the comparison between BRI and Asia Super Grid, in what they differ and why, and in what they have in common (in terms of geopolitics, energy, and economic consequences). This idea lead to the following outline:

  • General overview of BRI
  • General overview of ASG
  • Comparison on several dimensions and indicators

A third idea tried to incorporate the two outlines. In particular:

  • General overview of BRI
  • Focus on energy
  • Questions on other important energy projects of the region and the possible consequences (e.g. Is China really trying to dominate the region through energy diplomacy? Is China the only player or is it spurring a reaction from other countries, for example, the energy partnership between Japan and Mongolia?)

On top of the discussions, Robert provided the following useful tips:

  • Consider the differences between: Green (the broadest) vs. Sustainable vs. Renewable energies. What do we mean with the terms and how are they used by China?
  • Maintain an initial general section of the research that describes what BRI is and the debate around it.
  • Try to keep the “technical” aspects of BRI (its “hard facts”) as concise and to the point as possible (e.g. if we focus on energy, briefly present energy projects only). Do not take more than 25% of the research for it.
  • Adopt a relative perspective when presenting BRI (put it in contrast to another initiative, for example) in order to not demonize it or underestimate it.
  • Find out figures about the Global and Chinese investments in green energy and coal/fossil fuels. Are they rising? What is the mix? Is China performing better or worse than the rest of the world?

Next steps:
By next week, every member of the team should be ready to discuss the following:

  • Find out how relevant is the energy aspect of BRI overall
  • Understand how big of a project the Asian Super Grid and whether or not it can actually be comparable to BRI

According to our findings, we will then finalise the research outline and split the work into individual research sections to be completed for the subsequent session.