Reconnecting Asia

Mapping continental ambitions

Methodology

Reconnecting Asia is the first effort to map the evolution of Asia’s infrastructure network at the project level. Initial coverage includes three infrastructure types – roads, railways, and ports – active between 2006 and today. As current projects develop and new projects emerge, coverage will be updated and extended.

These infrastructure types were selected for their importance in shaping patterns of commerce and connectivity. Domestically, roads typically account for the majority of freight activity in many countries. Historically, railways have figured prominently in national integration projects, and perhaps more than other major infrastructure projects, have been used for both commercial and strategic purposes. The majority of international trade travels by sea, with ports providing a vital linkage between these maritime flows and land-based distribution networks.

The project’s scope is broad and inclusive. Geographically, it covers the supercontinent of Eurasia, which spans 12 time zones and contains over a third of the world’s landmass. Examining connectivity across this vast space requires looking at the center as well as the periphery. The geographic distribution of our data, as displayed on The Map, reflects not only different levels of activity on the ground but also different levels of transparency documenting that activity. Moreover, a project’s cost is not always correlated with its impact on connectivity. As a result, there is no minimum project cost required for inclusion in The Database.

Data collection and processing occurs in three phases. First, project information is collected from a set of open primary sources, in both English and non-English languages, and relevant actors are identified. These sources include, for example, national government agencies of the host country, regional development banks, and project contracts. Please see the glossary for a list of qualified primary sources by type, a definition of each source type, and the information they provide for inclusion in the database.

Second, data is verified and de-conflicted. The actor providing the most comprehensive and recent information is treated as the most authoritative. In cases of conflicting information, our researchers defer first to information provided by the sources of funds, followed by information from implementing agencies, and, last, information from all other sources. Decisions on the reliability of sources in the third category are made based on the judgment of the research team.

Finally, if data is sufficient, projects are geotagged using satellite imagery and project documentation. At minimum, this requires a documented reference to the project’s endpoints, which are often town centers (for roads) or train stations (for railways). If this is the only information available, a straight line is drawn between the endpoints. If construction is reflected on the satellite imagery that corresponds to the path between the endpoints, or the project description indicated in documentation, the straight path will be modified accordingly.

Throughout this process, there are a number of practical challenges. Every day, new projects are announced, while others are delayed, modified, completed, or cancelled. There are many actors and different levels of transparency. There are few centralized repositories for project documentation. Projects vary in financing structures, and documents, especially for projects funded with domestic resources, are often written in local languages.

Given these challenges, Reconnecting Asia is necessarily a work in progress. Eventually, its scope could be expanded to cover additional types of infrastructure. But even within the more limited universe of road, rail, and port projects, its data will remain non-exhaustive. Acknowledging these realities, Reconnecting Asia seeks to provide the maximum amount of information available, while maintaining strict guidelines for sourcing and verification. To that end, we welcome your input.