Over the last several decades, China has increasingly sought to expand its influence abroad. An integral component of its approach has been the establishment of Special Economic Zones (SEZs) overseas, which in theory provide China and the host country with a variety of benefits. Though China’s SEZs have had a mixed track record of success, the continued growth in their utilization suggests that they will remain a central component of China’s efforts to expand its influence abroad for the foreseeable future. Though the economic and political impacts of China's overseas SEZs have drawn much interest, other important impacts from zone development remain under-analyzed. Few studies have attempted to assess the sustainability practices of China's overseas SEZs, despite China's claims that the BRI emphasizes sustainability as a primary goal. As such, it is imperative to understand whether China's developments abroad align with its public rhetoric promoting social development and environmental protection, or whether China's overseas SEZs simply serve as an avenue for China to export environmentally harmful industry and social practices abroad. Working with the National Geospatial Intelligence Agency (NGA), the SIPA Capstone team utilized open source reporting and commercial imagery tools to create three authoritative, public-facing intelligence reports on the social and environmental impacts of SEZs commonly utilized by China. The team argued for the value of including imagery in analysis, especially in a world where open-source imagery is increasingly available. The team expects to see more sustainability assessments include imagery as a way to verify claims towards progress made by both host nation governments and the operators of these zones.

As part of their final deliveralable, the Capstone team produced articles for National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency's Tearline project, which are now available here: Sustainability of China’s Overseas Special Economic Zones.