Belt and Road Initiative
|Purpose||Promote economic development and inter-regional connectivity|
|Asia, Africa, Europe, Middle East, Americas|
|Xi Jinping, Li Keqiang|
|The Silk Road Economic Belt and the 21st-century Maritime Silk Road|
|One Belt, One Road (OBOR)|
|This article is part of a series on the|
politics and government of
The Belt and Road Initiative (BRI, or B&R), formerly known as One Belt One Road (Chinese: 一带一路) or OBOR for short, is a global infrastructure development strategy adopted by the Chinese government in 2013 to invest in nearly 70 countries and international organizations. It is considered a centerpiece of Communist Party of China general secretary Xi Jinping's foreign policy.
Xi Jinping originally announced the strategy during official visits to Indonesia and Kazakhstan in 2013. "Belt" refers to the overland routes for road and rail transportation, called "the Silk Road Economic Belt"; whereas "road" refers to the sea routes, or the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road. It was incorporated into the Constitution of the People's Republic of China in 2017.
The Chinese government calls the initiative "a bid to enhance regional connectivity and embrace a brighter future". Some observers, in nonparticipant countries, interpret it as a plan for Chinese world domination[failed verification] through a China-centered global trading network. The project has a target completion date of 2049, which coincides with the 100th anniversary of the People's Republic of China.
The initiative was unveiled by Chinese paramount leader Xi Jinping in September and October 2013 during visits to Kazakhstan and Indonesia, and was thereafter promoted by Premier Li Keqiang during state visits to Asia and Europe. The initiative was given intensive coverage by Chinese state media, and by 2016 often being featured in the People's Daily.
The stated objectives are "to construct a unified large market and make full use of both international and domestic markets, through cultural exchange and integration, to enhance mutual understanding and trust of member nations, ending up in an innovative pattern with capital inflows, talent pool, and technology database." The Belt and Road Initiative addresses an "infrastructure gap" and thus has potential to accelerate economic growth across the Asia Pacific area, Africa and Central and Eastern Europe. A report from the World Pensions Council (WPC) estimates that Asia, excluding China, requires up to US$900 billion of infrastructure investments per year over the next decade, mostly in debt instruments, 50% above current infrastructure spending rates. The gaping need for long term capital explains why many Asian and Eastern European heads of state "gladly expressed their interest to join this new international financial institution focusing solely on 'real assets' and infrastructure-driven economic growth".
The initial focus has been infrastructure investment, education, construction materials, railway and highway, automobile, real estate, power grid, and iron and steel. Already, some estimates list the Belt and Road Initiative as one of the largest infrastructure and investment projects in history, covering more than 68 countries, including 65% of the world's population and 40% of the global gross domestic product as of 2017. The project builds on the old trade routes that once connected China to the west, Marco Polo and Ibn Battuta's routes in the north and the maritime expedition routes of Ming dynasty admiral Zheng He in the south. The Belt and Road Initiative now refers to the entire geographical area of the historic "Silk Road" trade route, which has been continuously used in antiquity. Development of the Renminbi as a currency of international transactions, development of the infrastructures of Asian countries, strengthening diplomatic relations whilst reducing dependency on the US and creating new markets for Chinese products, exporting surplus industrial capacity, and integrating commodities-rich countries more closely into the Chinese economy are all objectives of the BRI.
While some countries view the project critically because of possible Chinese influence, others point to the creation of a new global growth engine by connecting and moving Asia, Europe and Africa closer together.
The G7 industrial country Italy has been a partner in the development of the project since March 2019. According to estimates, the entire project today affects more than 60% of the world's population and approximately 35% of the global economy. Trade along the Silk Road could soon account for almost 40% of total world trade, with a large part being by sea. The land route of the Silk Road also appears to remain a niche project in terms of transport volume in the future.
In the maritime silk road, which is already the route for more than half of all containers in the world, deepwater ports are being expanded, logistical hubs are being built and new traffic routes are being created in the hinterland. The maritime silk road runs with its connections from the Chinese coast to the south via Hanoi to Jakarta, Singapore and Kuala Lumpur through the Strait of Malacca via the Sri Lankan Colombo towards the southern tip of India via Malé, the capital of the Maldives, to the East African Mombasa, from there to Djibouti, then through the Red Sea via the Suez Canal to the Mediterranean, there via Haifa, Istanbul and Athens to the Upper Adriatic region to the northern Italian hub of Trieste with its international free port and its rail connections to Central Europe and the North Sea.
As a result, Poland, the Baltic States, Northern Europe and Central Europe are also connected to the maritime silk road and logistically linked to East Africa, India and China via the Adriatic ports and Piraeus. All in all, the ship connections for container transports between Asia and Europe will be reorganized. In contrast to the longer East Asian traffic via north-west Europe, the southern sea route through the Suez Canal towards the junction Trieste shortens the goods transport by at least four days.
In connection with the Silk Road project, China is also trying to network worldwide research activities.
The official name for the initiative is the Silk Road Economic Belt and 21st-Century Maritime Silk Road Development Strategy (丝绸之路经济带和21世纪海上丝绸之路发展战略)., which was initially abbreviated as the One Belt One Road (Chinese: 一带一路) or the OBOR strategy. The English translation has been changed to the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) since 2016, when the Chinese government considered the emphasis on the words "one" and "strategy" were prone to misinterpretation so they opted for the more inclusive term "initiative" in its translation. However, "One Belt One Road" is still the reference term in Chinese-language media.
The Belt and Road Initiative is believed by some analysts to be a way to extend Chinese economic and political influence. Some geopolitical analysts have couched the Belt and Road Initiative in the context of Halford Mackinder's heartland theory. Scholars have noted that official PRC media attempts to mask any strategic dimensions of the Belt and Road Initiative as a motivation. China has already invested billions of dollars in several South Asian countries like Pakistan, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Afghanistan to improve their basic infrastructure, with implications for China's trade regime as well as its military influence. China has emerged as one of the fastest-growing sources of Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) into India – it was the 17th largest in 2016, up from the 28th rank in 2014 and 35th in 2011, according to India's official ranking of FDI inflows.
BRI's goals include internal state-building and stabilisation of ethnic unrest for its vast inland western regions such as Xinjiang and Yunnan, linking these less developed regions, with increased flows of international trade facilitating closer economic integration with China's inland core.
A leading group was formed sometime in late 2014, and its leadership line-up publicized on 1 February 2015. This steering committee reports directly into the State Council of the People's Republic of China and is composed of several political heavyweights, evidence of the importance of the program to the government. Then Vice-Premier Zhang Gaoli, who was also a member of the 7-man Politburo Standing Committee, was named leader of the group, and Wang Huning, Wang Yang, Yang Jing, and Yang Jiechi named deputy leaders.
On 28 March 2015, China's State Council outlined the principles, framework, key areas of cooperation and cooperation mechanisms with regard to the initiative. The BRI is considered a strategic element within the foreign policy of the People's Republic of China, and was incorporated into its constitution in 2017.
Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB)
Prospective members (regional)
Prospective members (non-regional)
The Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, first proposed in October 2013, is a development bank dedicated to lending for infrastructure projects. As of 2015, China announced that over one trillion yuan (US$160 billion) of infrastructure related projects were in planning or construction.
The primary goals of AIIB are to address the expanding infrastructure needs across Asia, enhance regional integration, promote economic development and improve public access to social services.
The Articles of Agreement (the legal framework) of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) were signed in Beijing on 29 June 2015. The proposed bank has an authorized capital of $100 billion, 75% of which will come from Asia and Oceania. China will be the single largest stakeholder, holding 26.63% of voting rights. The board of governors is AIIB's highest decision-making body. The bank began operation on 16 January 2016, and approved its first four loans in June.
Silk Road Fund
In November 2014, Xi Jinping announced a US$40 billion development fund, which would be separate from the banks and not part of the CPEC investment. The Silk Road Fund would invest in businesses rather than lend money to the projects. The Karot Hydropower Project, 50 km (31 mi) from Islamabad, Pakistan is the first project. The Chinese government has promised to provide Pakistan with at least US$350 million by 2030 to finance this station. The Sanxia Construction Corporation commenced work in January 2016.
According to Carmen Reinhart, the World Bank's chief economist, 60% of the lending from Chinese banks is to developing countries where sovereign loans are negotiated bilaterally, and in secret. Loans are backed by collateral such as rights to a mine, a port or money. Critics use the term debt trap diplomacy to claim China intentionally extends excessive credit to a debtor country with the alleged intention of extracting economic or political concessions from the debtor country when it becomes unable to honor its debt obligations (often asset-based lending, with assets including infrastructure). The conditions of the loans are often not made public and the loaned money is typically used to pay contractors from the creditor country.
For China itself, a report from Fitch Ratings doubts Chinese banks' ability to control risks, as they do not have a good record of allocating resources efficiently at home. This may lead to new asset quality problems for Chinese banks where most funding is likely to originate.
It has been suggested by some scholars that critical discussions about an evolving BRI and its financing needs transcend the "debt-trap" meme. This concerns the networked nature of financial centers and the vital role of advanced business services (e.g. law and accounting) that bring agents and sites into view (such as law firms, financial regulators, and offshore centers) that are generally less visible in geopolitical analysis, but vital in the financing of BRI.
The COVID-19 pandemic has stopped work on some projects, while some have been scrapped; focus has been brought on projects that were already of questionable economic viability before the pandemic. Many of the loans agreed upon are in or nearing technical default, as many debtor countries reliant on exporting commodities have seen a slump in demand for them. Some debtor countries have started to negotiate to defer payments falling due. In particular, the African continent owes an estimated $145 billion, much of which involves BRI projects, with $8bn falling due in 2020. Many leaders on the continent are demanding debt forgiveness, and The Economist forecasts a wave of defaults on these loans.
The Belt and Road Initiative is about improving the physical infrastructure through land corridors that roughly equate to the old Silk Road. These are the belts in the name, and there is also a maritime silk road. Infrastructure corridors spanning some 60 countries, primarily in Asia and Europe but also including Oceania and East Africa, will cost an estimated US$4–8 trillion. The initiative has been contrasted with the two US-centric trading arrangements, the Trans-Pacific Partnership and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership. The initiative projects receive financial support from the Silk Road Fund and the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank while they are technically coordinated by the B&R Summit Forum. The land corridors include:
- The New Eurasian Land Bridge, which runs from Western China to Western Russia through Kazakhstan, and includes the Silk Road Railway through China's Xinjiang Autonomous Region, Kazakhstan, Russia, Belarus, Poland and Germany.
- Another corridor will run from Northern China through Mongolia to the Russian Far East. The Russian government-established Russian Direct Investment Fund and China's China Investment Corporation, a Chinese government investment agency, partnered in 2012 to create the Russia-China Investment Fund, which concentrates on opportunities in bilateral integration.
- The China–Central Asia–West Asia Corridor, which will run from Western China to Turkey.
- The China–Indochina Peninsula Corridor, which will run from Southern China to Singapore.
- The China–Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) (Chinese:中国-巴基斯坦经济走廊; Urdu: پاكستان-چین اقتصادی راہداری) which is also classified as "closely related to the Belt and Road Initiative", a US$62 billion collection of infrastructure projects throughout Pakistan which aims to rapidly modernize Pakistan's transportation networks, energy infrastructure, and economy. On 13 November 2016, CPEC became partly operational when Chinese cargo was transported overland to Gwadar Port for onward maritime shipment to Africa and West Asia.
Silk Road Economic Belt
Xi Jinping visited Nur-Sultan, Kazakhstan, and Southeast Asia in September and October 2013, and proposed jointly building a new economic area, the Silk Road Economic Belt (Chinese: 丝绸之路经济带) The "belt" includes countries on the original Silk Road through Central Asia, West Asia, the Middle East, and Europe. The initiative would create a cohesive economic area by building both hard infrastructure such as rail and road links and soft infrastructure such as trade agreements and a common commercial legal structure with a court system to police the agreements. It would increase cultural exchanges and expand trade. Besides a zone largely analogous to the historical Silk Road, an expansion includes South Asia and Southeast Asia.
Many of the countries in this belt are also members of the China-led Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB).
Three belts are proposed. The North belt would go through Central Asia and Russia to Europe. The Central belt passes through Central Asia and West Asia to the Persian Gulf and the Mediterranean. The South belt runs from China through Southeast Asia and South Asia and on to the Indian Ocean through Pakistan. The strategy will integrate China with Central Asia through Kazakhstan's Nurly Zhol infrastructure program.
21st Century Maritime Silk Road
The "21st Century Maritime Silk Road" (Chinese:21世纪海上丝绸之路), or just the Maritime Silk Road, is the sea route 'corridor.' It is a complementary initiative aimed at investing and fostering collaboration in Southeast Asia, Oceania and Africa through several contiguous bodies of water: the South China Sea, the South Pacific Ocean, and the wider Indian Ocean area. It was first proposed in October 2013 by Xi Jinping in a speech to the Indonesian Parliament. As with the Silk Road Economic Belt initiative, most member countries have joined the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank.
Ice Silk Road
In addition to the Maritime Silk Road, Russia and China are reported to have agreed to jointly build an 'Ice Silk Road' along the Northern Sea Route in the Arctic, along a maritime route which Russia considers part of its territorial waters.
China COSCO Shipping Corp. has completed several trial trips on Arctic shipping routes, and Chinese and Russian companies are cooperating on oil and gas exploration in the area and to advance comprehensive collaboration on infrastructure construction, tourism and scientific expeditions.
Russia together with China approached the practical discussion of the global infrastructure project Ice Silk Road. This was stated by representatives of Vnesheconombank at the International conference Development of the shelf of Russia and the CIS — 2019 (Petroleum Offshore of Russia), held in Moscow.[clarification needed][unreliable source?]
The delegates of the conference were representatives of the leadership of Russian and corporations (Gazprom, Lukoil, Rosatom, Rosgeologiya, Vnesheconombank, Morneftegazproekt, Murmanshelf, Russian Helicopters, etc.), as well as foreign auditors (Deloitte, member of the world Big Four) and consulting centers (Norwegian Rystad Energy and others.).[unreliable source?]
The super grid project aims to develop six ultra high voltage electrical grids across China, north-east Asia, Southeast Asia, south Asia, central Asia and west Asia. The wind power resources of central Asia would form one component of this grid.
The Bangladesh–China–India–Myanmar Economic Corridor (BCIM) was proposed to run from southern China to Myanmar and was initially officially classified as "closely related to the Belt and Road Initiative". Since the second Belt and Road Forum in 2019, BCIM has been dropped from the list of projects due to India's refusal to participate in the Belt and Road Initiative.
Ecological concerns are problematic for many BRI opponents including deforestation along the Pan Borneo Highway – which spans Malaysia, Indonesia and Brunei – which can cause landslides, floods and other disaster mitigation concerns. Coal-fired power stations, such as Emba Hunutlu power station in Turkey, are being built, thus increasing greenhouse gas emissions and global warming. Glacier melting as a result of excess greenhouse gas emissions, endangered species preservation, desertification and soil erosion as a result of overgrazing and over farming, mining practices, water resource management, and air and water pollution as a result of poorly planned infrastructure projects are some of the ongoing concerns as they relate to Central Asian nations.
The development of port infrastructure and increasing shipping associated with the maritime Belt and Road Initiative could impact sensitive species and marine habitats like coral reefs, mangroves, seagrass meadows and saltmarsh.
During the 2nd Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation (in April 2019), the Belt and Road Initiative International Green Development Coalition (BRIGC) was launched. It brings together the environmental expertise of all partners to ensure that the Belt and Road brings long-term green and sustainable development to all concerned countries in support of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.
Reactions and criticism
To date, more than 130 countries have issued endorsements. Moscow has been an early partner of China, and Russia and China now have altogether 150 common projects including natural gas pipelines and the Polar Silk Road. In March 2015, Russia's First Deputy Prime Minister Igor Shuvalov asserted that "Russia should not view the Silk Road Economic Belt as a threat to its traditional, regional sphere of influence […] but as an opportunity for the Eurasian Economic Union".
Singapore does not need massive external financing or technical assistance for domestic infrastructure building, but repeatedly endorsed the BRI and cooperated in related projects in a quest for global relevance and to strengthen economic ties with BRI recipients. Furthermore, there is a strategic defensive factor: making sure China is not the single dominant factor in Asian economics.
While the Philippines historically have been closely tied to the United States, China has sought its support for the BRI in terms of the quest for dominance in the South China Sea. The Philippines has adjusted its policy in favor of Chinese claims in the South China Sea under Philippines President Rodrigo Roa Duterte who expects support of his plans for massive infrastructure expansion.
In April 2019 and during the second Arab Forum on Reform and Development, China engaged in an array of partnerships called "Build the Belt and Road, Share Development and Prosperity" with 18 Arab countries. The general stand of African countries sees BRI as a tremendous opportunity for independence from foreign aid and influence.
Greece, Croatia and 14 other Eastern European countries are already dealing with China within the framework of the BRI. In March 2019, Italy was the first member of the Group of Seven nations to join the BRI. The new partners signed a Memorandum of Understanding worth €2.5 billion across an array of sectors such as transport, logistics and port infrastructure.
The United States proposes a counter-initiative called the "Free and Open Indo-Pacific strategy" (FOIP). US officials have articulated the strategy as having three pillars – security, economics, and governance. At the beginning of June 2019, there has been a redefinition of the general definitions of "free" and "open" into four stated principles – respect for sovereignty and independence; peaceful resolution of disputes; free, fair, and reciprocal trade; and adherence to international rules and norms.
Government officials in India have repeatedly objected to China's Belt and Road Initiative, specifically because they believe the "China–Pakistan Economic Corridor" (CPEC) project ignores New Delhi's essential concerns on sovereignty and territorial integrity.
Accusations of neocolonialism and debt-trap
There has been concern over the project being a form of neocolonialism. Some Western governments have accused the Belt and Road Initiative of being neocolonial due to what they allege is China's practice of debt trap diplomacy to fund the initiative's infrastructure projects. China contends that the initiative has provided markets for commodities, improved prices of resources and thereby reduced inequalities in exchange, improved infrastructure, created employment, stimulated industrialization, and expanded technology transfer, thereby benefiting host countries.
In 2018, Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad cancelled China-funded projects and warns "there is a new version of colonialism happening", which he later clarified as not being about China and its Belt and Road Initiative in an interview with the BBC HARDtalk.
South Korea has tried to develop the "Eurasia Initiative" (EAI) as its own vision for an east–west connection. In calling for a revival of the ancient Silk Road, the main goal of President Park Geun-hye was to encourage a flow of economic, political, and social interaction from Europe through the Korean Peninsula. Her successor, President Moon Jae-in announced his own foreign policy initiative, the "New Southern Policy" (NSP), which seeks to strengthen relations with Southeast Asia.
While Italy and Greece have joined the Belt and Road Initiative, European leaders have voiced ambivalent opinions. German chancellor Angela Merkel declared that the BRI "must lead to a certain reciprocity, and we are still wrangling over that bit". In January 2019 French president Emmanuel Macron said: "the ancient Silk Roads were never just Chinese … New roads cannot go just one way." European Commission Chief Jean-Claude Juncker and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe signed an infrastructure agreement in Brussels in September 2019 to counter China's Belt and Road Initiative and link Europe and Asia to coordinate infrastructure, transport and digital projects.
In 2018, the premier of the southeastern Australian state of Victoria, Daniel Andrews, signed a memorandum of understanding on the Belt and Road Initiative to establish infastructure ties and further relations with China. Home Affairs minister Peter Dutton described BRI as "a propaganda initiative from China" that brings an "enormous amount of foreign interference" and "Victoria needs to explain why it is the only state in the country that has entered into this agreement". Prime minister Scott Morrison said Victoria was stepping into federal government policy territory, "We didn’t support that decision at the time they made [the agreement]. And national interest issues on foreign affairs are determined by the federal government, and I respect their jurisdiction when it comes to the issues they’re responsible for and it’s always been the usual practice for states to respect and recognise the role of the federal government in setting foreign policy".
The University Alliance of the Silk Road centered at Xi'an Jiaotong University aims to support the Belt and Road initiative with research and engineering, and to foster understanding and academic exchange. A French think tank, Fondation France Chine (France-China Foundation), focused on the study of the New Silk Roads, was launched in 2018. It is described as pro–Belt and Road Initiative and pro-China.
- Asian Highway Network
- Eurasian Land Bridge
- Foreign policy of China
- List of the largest trading partners of China
- Trans-Asian Railway
- International North–South Transport Corridor
- Asia-Africa Growth Corridor
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|Library resources about |
Belt and Road Initiative
- Cai, Peter. Understanding China's belt and road initiative (Lowy Institute 2017) online.
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- Chansok, L. (2019): The Belt and Road Initiative and Cambodia’s Infrastructure Connectivity Development: A Cambodian Perspective. In: Cheung FM and Hong Y-Y (eds) Regional Connection under the Belt and Road Initiative. The prospects for Economic and Financial Cooperation. London: Routledge, pp.134–163.
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- He, Baogang. "Chinese expanded perceptions of the region and its changing attitudes toward the Indo-Pacific: A hybrid vision of the institutionalization of the Indo-Pacific." East Asia 35.2 (2018): 117–132.
- Ito, Asei. "China’s Belt and Road Initiative and Japan’s Response: from Non-participation to Conditional Engagement." East Asia 36.2 (2019): 115–128.
- Jones, Lee, and Jinghan Zeng. "Understanding China’s ‘Belt and Road Initiative’: beyond ‘grand strategy’ to a state transformation analysis." Third World Quarterly 40.8 (2019): 1415–1439 online.
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- Liu, Hong, and Guanie Lim. "The political economy of a rising China in Southeast Asia: Malaysia’s response to the Belt and Road Initiative." Journal of Contemporary China 28.116 (2019): 216–231. online
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- Park, Albert. Which Countries Have Benefited the Most from China's Belt and Road Initiative?. (No. 2019-32. HKUST Institute for Emerging Market Studies, 2019) online.
- Scissors, Derek. "The Belt and Road is Overhyped, Commercially." AEI Paper & Studies (American Enterprise Institute, 2019) online
- Shah, Abdur Rehman. "China's Belt and Road Initiative: The Way to the Modern Silk Road and the Perils of Overdependence." Asian Survey 59.3 (2019): 407–428. DOI: 10.1525/as.2019.59.3.407
- Sidaway, James D., Simon C. Rowedder, Chih Yuan Woon, Weiqiang Lin and Vattana Pholsena. “Introduction: Research agendas raised by the Belt and Road Initiative.” Environment and Planning C: Politics and Space 38.5 (2020): 795-802 doi:10.1177/2399654420911410
- Tjia, Yin-nor Linda. "The Unintended Consequences of Politicization of the Belt and Road’s China-Europe Freight Train Initiative." The China Journal 83.1 (2020): 58–78 doi:10.1086/706743
- Vakulchuk, Roman and Indra Overland (2019): China's Belt and Road Initiative through the Lens of Central Asia, in Fanny M. Cheung and Ying-yi Hong (eds) Regional Connection under the Belt and Road Initiative. The prospects for Economic and Financial Cooperation. London: Routledge, 115–133. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/329310641
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