PROGRESS IN GEOGRAPHY ›› 2019, Vol. 38 ›› Issue (11): 1735-1746.doi: 10.18306/dlkxjz.2019.11.009

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Spatial impacts of the geopolitics of non-state actors and their formation pathways

LIU Xiaofeng1,2, GE Yuejing1,3,*(), HU Wei1, HUANG Yu1, MA Teng4   

  1. 1. Faculty of Geographical Science, Beijing Normal University, Beijing 100875, China
    2. Department of Geography, The University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong 999077, China
    3. Academy of Plateau Science and Sustainability, Xining 810008, China
    4. Economics and Management School, Hangzhou Normal University, Hangzhou 311121, China
  • Received:2018-12-21 Revised:2019-05-01 Online:2019-11-28 Published:2019-11-28
  • Contact: GE Yuejing
  • Supported by:
    Major Program of National Social Science Foundation of China, No(16ZDA041);National Natural Science Foundation of China, No(41871128);National Natural Science Foundation of China, No(41801132)


With the emergence of global governance, non-state actors have increasingly attracted attentions around the world as a key participant of governance, although nation state is still the most important actor. As the Belt and Road initiative being promoted around the world, it becomes unavoidable to deal with the relationship with numerous non-state actors along the road. Many disputes between Chinese enterprises and foreign stakeholders are embedded in the complex social relations, which cannot be completely solved through official agreements or negotiations between the states. But non-state actors play an irreplaceable role in the generation and settlement of these problems. Geopolitics, particularly critical geopolitical theories (a key branch of geopolitics), and global governance theories have emphasized studies of diverse actors and their interpretation of international affairs, raising the necessity to examine the role and influence of non-state actors. Therefore, it is necessary to inspect their roles. However, the research on the geopolitics of non-state actors is under-developed, especially lacking the thinking from a spatial perspective. This article examines the impacts and the pathways of influence of non-state actors on the basis of existing studies to provide some references for understanding the role of non-state actors. First, this article examines the conception and classification of non-state actors. Then their geopolitical influences in space and pathways of these influences are explored, aiming to improve the framework for understanding non-state actors theoretically and instruct China's international cooperation in practice. We drew conclusions as follows. First, although non-state actors have not shaken the status of nation state on the world stage, they do have unique and irreplaceable roles to play in many issues. They not only act as the extension of states or governments on some occasions, but also make a breakthrough on traditional national border and territory. Second, they have both positive and negative impacts in the process of interacting with state actors in international spaces. The impact can be understood by the question that how non-state actors participate to change the security space, the institution space, the perception space, and the power space in the world. Third, the main approaches that non-state actors adopt comprise participating in and maintaining global governance, molding geopolitical imagination and perception, as well as adjusting the geopolitical space and borders. At last, drawn from what is found above, this article puts forward that in the ongoing global processes, Chinese government and enterprises need to attach importance to the power of various non-state actors and the coordination of their relations. When dealing with the relationship with them, it is counterproductive to simply define them as collaborators or challengers of the state actors. This article also proposes some ways to cope with the potential impacts of non-state actors, such as enhancing dialogue, expanding cooperation, improving management, staying alert of possible threats, and encouraging China's non-state actors to participate in international affairs actively.

Key words: non-state actors, nongovernmental organizations, international organizations, critical geopolitics, global governance, geopolitical space