Dr. Oliveira published in the Journal of Contemporary China

The Tenuous Co-Production of China’s Belt and Road Initiative in Brazil and Latin America


Dr. Oliveira’s article “The Tenuous Co-Production of China’s Belt and Road Initiative in Brazil and Latin America“, co-authored with Margaret Myers, has just been published in the Journal of Contemporary China.



China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) evolved from promotion of Eurasian connectivity into a catchall for Chinese foreign policy and infrastructure investments worldwide. Although usually portrayed as a top-down geopolitical project of the Chinese central government, this article argues the BRI is actually shaped by converging and diverging interests of a wide variety of actors within and outside China. In order to conceptualize the relational, contingent, and unstable emergence of the BRI in Latin America, the article emphasizes the process of co-production as a theoretical framework. It first analyzes how the BRI incorporated Latin America through policy and discourse analysis, then examines the multi-scalar and multi-sited co-production of Chinese-funded port and railroad infrastructures through interviews and public documents in Brazil.

Keywords: China; Brazil; Latin America; Belt and Road Initiative; Co-production; Infrastructure; Ports; Railroads; International Relations

The Journal of Contemporary China was established in 1992. It has become one of the most prominent interdisciplinary journals of Chinese studies, and since 2011 it has featured in the top quartertile of journals in political science, international relations, geography, planning, and development. It is one of the preeminent forums for research and debate about China’s Belt and Road Initiative, having published over fifty articles on this topic in the past five years.

For the full length article, see: https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/10670564.2020.1827358

Dr. Oliveira publishes a special issue of Political Geography

China’s Belt and Road Initiative: Views from the Ground

Dr. Oliveira’s article “China’s Belt and Road Initiative: Views from the Ground” has just been published as the guest editor’s introduction to a special issue Political Geography.

The article is co-authored with Galen Murton, Alessandro Rippa, Tyler Harlan, and Yang Yang, who also co-edited the special issue.


ABSTRACT: The Chinese government promotes the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) as a global strategy for regional integration and infrastructure investment. With a projected US$1 trillion commitment from Chinese financial institutions, and at least 138 countries participating, the BRI is attracting intense debate. Yet most analysis to date focuses on broad drivers, risks, and opportunities, largely considered to be emanating from a coherent policy imposed by Beijing. In this special issue, we instead examine the BRI as a relational, contested process – a bundle of intertwined discourses, policies, and projects that sometimes align but are sometimes contradictory. We move beyond policy-level, macro-economic, and classic geopolitical analysis to study China’s global investments “from the ground”. Our case studies reveal the BRI to be dynamic and unstable, rhetorically appropriated for different purposes that sometimes but do not always coalesce as a coherent geopolitical and geoeconomic strategy. The papers in this special issue provide one of the first collections of deep empirical work on the BRI and a useful approach for grounding China’s role in globalization in the critical contexts of complex local realities.

KEYWORDS: China, Belt and Road Initiative, political geography, globalization, theory and methods, global ethnography.


Political Geography is the flagship journal of political geography and advances knowledge in all aspects of the geographical and spatial dimensions of politics and the political. It was established in 1982, consistently ranks among the most high impact and well regarded journals across the disciplines of geography, history, political science, sociology, and interdisciplinary social sciences.

For the full-length article, see: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.polgeo.2020.102225

Dr. Oliveira presents his research at the Federal Rural University of Rio de Janeiro (Brazil)

Video of lecture at UFRRJ, July 31, 2020

Video of lecture at UFRRJ, July 31, 2020

Dr. Oliveira presents at the Global Studies Colloquium, UC Santa Barbara

“A Global Ethnography of Chinese Investments in Brazilian Agribusiness”

Professor Gustavo de L. T. Oliveira, Department of Global and International Studies, UC Irvine

Thursday, February 20 at 12:30pm to 2:00pm

The Department of Global Studies’ Colloquium Series is a lecture and lunch series, which has been made possible by the generosity of the Orfalea Endowment for the Master’s Program in Global Studies.  The Colloquium Series strives to open and explore a wide range of interdisciplinary debates and their interaction and engagement with the global, hosting new guest speakers each quarter from UCSB and beyond.  The upcoming event will be hosted in the SSMS 2001 conference room in the Global Studies Department on Thursday, February 20th at 12:30pm. Please see below for the featured talk:

“A Global Ethnography of Chinese Investments in Brazilian Agribusiness”

In the aftermath of the global food price and financial crisis of 2008, Chinese investments in Brazilian agribusiness mushroomed and two narratives emerged: either these are new South-South flows that sustain economic growth and development despite the crisis in the global North; or they are essentially land grabs that deepen Brazil’s neocolonial dependency on its new primary trade partner. Both narratives, however, regard Chinese agro industrial capital as homogenous and oversimplify it as a “global force” that has “local impacts” in Brazil and beyond. Missing from the literature is attention to the specific actors who co-produce these business deals, a transnational class of agribusiness professionals who advance their own affluence and influence by assembling Chinese capital with Brazilian land, labor, and expertise. In order to properly examine these actors and their co-production of Brazil-China agro-industrial partnerships, I advance theories and methods of global studies that are especially useful for the multiscalar and multi-sited fieldwork this research requires, viz. global ethnography and theories of assemblage and transnational class formation. I triangulate data from government, media, and company reports, field site observations, and semi-structured interviews with the boosters, brokers, bureaucrats, and businessmen who assemble Chinese capital with Brazilian agribusiness, and situate this material in relation to similar data about the political ecological struggles unfolding at the sites of investment across Brazil. Thus, my research reveals (1) the forms of power and interest bring these investments into being, and (2) their effect upon the Brazilian territory, model of development, and environment. Ultimately, I argue we can distinguish between “Paper Tigers”, companies that were feared as powerful land grabbers and relied on Brazilian political contacts but largely failed to effectively establish themselves in Brazil, and “Dragon Heads”, companies that undertook global-level mergers and acquisitions to bypass the challenges of management and socio-ecological resistance. Shifting theoretical and methodological focus to the career interests and assemblage methods undertaken by transnational agribusiness professionals who plan, produce, and profit from these endeavors, my scholarship reveals Chinese investments in Brazilian agribusiness are not determined by institutional characteristics and international relations, but rather by the class and ecological contradictions that undergird transnational agribusiness in these new hubs of global capital.

Dr. Gustavo de L. T. Oliveira is assistant professor in the Department of Global and International Studies at UC Irvine. He obtained his PhD in geography from UC Berkeley, a postdoctoral fellowship in environmental studies at Swarthmore College, and was visiting assistant professor of economic geography at Peking University. His current book project examines Chinese investments in Brazilian agribusiness and infrastructure. His work has been published in Development and Change, Globalizations, the Journal of Latin American Geography, Journal of Peasant Studies, and Territory, Politics, Governance, among others. He co-edited (with Susanna Hecht) a special issue of the Journal of Peasant Studies that has been republished as a book Soy, Globalization, and Environmental Politics in South America (Routledge, 2018), and is co-editing special issues on “China’s Belt and Road Initiative: Views from the Ground” for the journal Political Geography and another on “New Insights on Land Grabs in the BRICS and Global South” for the journal Globalizations.
For more information about the Colloquium Series, please contact Professor Jan Nederveen Pieterse, Global Studies Colloquium Director:

 UCSB Social Sciences and Media Studies Building, SSMS Conference Room 2001 (2nd Floor)


Dr. Oliveira interviewed on the Belt and Road Podcast

Soy and Sinophobia: China’s Place in Brazilian Agribusiness

Dr. Gustavo Oliveira talks about Chinese agribusiness investments in Brazil, the rising importance of the soy trade between the two countries, and the ways domestic and international business interests have fanned the flames of Sinophobia for strategic gains. Dr. Oliveira is a Brazilian scholar and activist and an Assistant Professor of Global & International Studies at University of California, Irvine.

The Belt and Road Podcast covers the latest news, research and analysis of China’s growing presence in the developing world. It is produced by Erik Myxter-Iino (Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions) and Juliet Lu (University of California, Berkeley).

For the full 71 minute interview, see:


Belt and Road Podcast, Episode 19

October 21, 2019

Dr. Oliveira published in Territory, Politics, Governance

Boosters, brokers, bureaucrats and businessmen: assembling Chinese capital with Brazilian agribusiness

Dr. Oliveira’s article Boosters, brokers, bureaucrats and businessmen: assembling Chinese capital with Brazilian agribusiness” has just been published a special issue on “Grounding China’s Global Integration” in the journal Territory, Politics, Governance.

ABSTRACT: My purpose in this paper is to deepen the literature on Chinese foreign investments (particularly in Brazilian agribusiness), and the formation of a transnational capitalist class, by utilizing practices of global ethnography and the conceptual apparatus of ‘assemblages’ emerging in human geography. I trace the genealogy of the Chinese-owned Brazilian company BBCA Brazil and its agroindustrial project in Mato Grosso do Sul state, since it is illustrative of the conditions of possibility for Chinese direct investments in agribusiness in Brazil and Brazil–China agroindustrial partnerships more generally. I argue the central characters of this story aptly illustrate the transnational class of boosters, brokers, bureaucrats and businessmen who rise by assembling Chinese capital with Brazilian (agri)business expertise, labour and land. It is the particular work of assemblage and set of skills of these characters, especially those operating at the ‘middle levels’ of state and corporate governance, that both enables the successful implementation of transnational investments, and also explains why such projects propel them while marginalizing others, increasing social inequality, and aggravating environmental degradation.

KEYWORDS: ChinaBrazilforeign direct investmentsglobalizationtransnational corporationstransnational capitalist classglobal ethnographyassemblage


Territory, Politics, Governance is an interdisciplinary journal from the Regional Studies Association. It is “committed to the development of theory and research in territorial politics and the governance of space,” emphasizing publications on globalization, territorial identities and politics, and multi-level governance, among other topics.

Dr. Oliveira published in the Journal of Latin American Geography

Dr. Oliveira’s article “The Battle of the Beans: How Direct Brazil-China Soybean Trade Was Stillborn in 2004” has just been published in a special issue on “New Geographies of China and Latin America Relations” in the Journal of Latin American Geography.

ABSTRACT: In 2004, Brazilian soybean cooperatives in Rio Grande do Sul state and the Chinese state-owned agroindustrial commodity trading company Chinatex orchestrated the first direct soybean shipments between both countries. By that moment, China had flipped from a net soybean exporter in the previous decade to the world’s leading importer of this commodity, and Brazilian exports were mushrooming to attend this demand. However, powerful trading corporations from the US and western Europe dominated this international trade. Thus, the attempt to establish direct shipments between Brazilian producers to China was integral to efforts by agribusinesses in these emerging economies to wrest control over the profits and flows of this burgeoning and strategic sector. However, this first partnership for direct soybean trade became embroiled in a convoluted crisis involving the legalization of transgenic soybeans in Brazil, widespread contamination of shipments with pesticide-covered seeds, record volatility in soybean prices, and the ensuing collapse and foreign take-over of the Chinese soybean trade and processing industry—dubbed the “Battle of the Beans” in Chinese media. Drawing on extended interviews with the key protagonists of this decisive moment in the restructuring of international agribusiness markets, I describe how direct Brazil-China soybean trade was spectacularly stillborn, consolidating the oligopoly of agribusiness trading companies from the Global North over international soybean markets for another decade. I argue this particular moment was one of the most important events in the construction of the new geography of Brazil-China relations, and we can only understand how its specific convergences and divergences emerged through grounded, transnational, and ethno-graphically-nuanced analysis. Thus, my investigation provides unprecedented insight into the political and economic conjuncture in which South-South cooperation is pursued between China and its largest commercial partner in Latin America, even while it reproduces agroindustrial production and trade relations that benefit transnational elites at the expense of the majority of peasants, workers, and the environment in both China and Latin America.
KEYWORDS: Brazil, China, global ethnography, soy, international trade

The Journal of Latin American Geography is published by the Conference of Latin American Geography (est. 1970) and distributed by the University of Texas Press. According to Google Scholar, it is the sixth highest ranked journal of Latin American studies.

For the full length article, see: http://muse.jhu.edu/article/701025