Belt and Road Initiative
|Purpose||"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"|
|Xi Jinping (2019)|
|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) is a global development strategy adopted by the Chinese government in 2013 involving infrastructure development and investments in 152 countries and international organizations in Asia, Europe, Africa, the Middle East, and the Americas.
The leader of the People's Republic of China, 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.
Formerly known as One Belt One Road (OBOR) (Chinese: 一带一路, short for the Silk Road Economic Belt and the 21st-century Maritime Silk Road (丝绸之路经济带和21世纪海上丝绸之路)), it has been referred to as the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) since 2016 when the Chinese government considered the emphasis on the word "one" was prone to misinterpretation. However, "One Belt One Road" (一带一路) is still used in Chinese-language media.
The Chinese government calls the initiative "a bid to enhance regional connectivity and embrace a brighter future". Some observers see it as a push for Chinese dominance in global affairs with a China-centered trading network. The project has a targeted completion date of 2049, which coincides with the 100th anniversary of the People's Republic of China.
- 1 History
- 2 Political control
- 3 Infrastructure networks
- 4 Project achievement
- 4.1 Africa
- 4.2 Europe
- 4.3 Caucasus
- 4.4 Russia and EEU
- 4.5 Asia
- 4.6 North and South America
- 5 Financial and research institutions
- 6 Criticism
- 7 Reactions over the world
- 8 See also
- 9 References
- 10 Further reading
- 11 External links
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.
Initially, the initiative was termed One Belt One Road Strategy, but officials decided that the term "strategy" would create suspicions so they opted for the more inclusive term "initiative" in its translation.
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 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 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 Leading Group for advancing the Development of One Belt One Road 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 then, was named leader of the group, with Wang Huning, Wang Yang, Yang Jing, and Yang Jiechi being named deputy leaders.
In March 2014, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang called for accelerating the Belt and Road Initiative along with the Bangladesh–China–India–Myanmar Economic Corridor and the China–Pakistan Economic Corridor in his government work report presented to the annual meeting of the country's legislature.
The Belt and Road Initiative is about improving the physical infrastructure along land corridors that roughly equate to the old silk road. These are the belts in the title, and a maritime silk road. Infrastructure corridors encompassing around 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 projects receive financial support from the Silk Road Fund and 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.
- The China–Mongolia–Russia Corridor, which will run from Northern China 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 Sino-Russian 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 Astana, 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) Essentially, the "belt" includes countries situated 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 the trade agreements and a common commercial legal structure with a court system to police the agreements. It would increase cultural exchanges, and broadening trade. Outside this zone, which is largely analogous to the historical Silk Road, is an extension to include South Asia and Southeast Asia.
Many of the countries that are part of 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 to Southeast Asia, South Asia, 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. Like the Silk Road Economic Belt initiative, most 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 jointly to build an 'Ice Silk Road' along the Northern Sea Route in the Arctic, along a maritime route which Russia considers to be part of its internal waters.
China COSCO Shipping Corp. has completed several trial trips on Arctic shipping routes, and Chinese and Russian companies are seeking cooperation 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.
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.).
The super grid project aims to develop six ultra high voltage electricity 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 (BCIM) Economic Corridor, which runs from southern China to Myanmar and was initially officially classified as "closely related to the Belt and Road Initiative". Since the 2nd Belt and Road Forum in 2019, BCIM has been dropped from the list of covered projects due to India's refusal to participate in the Belt and Road Initiative.
China has signed cooperational document on the belt and road initiative with 126 countries and 29 international organisations. In terms of infrastructure construction, China and the countries along the Belt and Road have carried out effective cooperation in ports, railways, highways, power stations, aviation and telecommunications.
Djibouti's Doraleh Multi-purpose Port and the Hassan Gouled Aptidon international airport. Djibouti, a remote country at the Horn of Africa, is at the heart of China's multibillion-dollar "Belt and Road Initiative", supporting Beijing's juggling of commercial and military objectives amid Western suspicions about its motives.
Ethiopia's Eastern Industrial Zone is a manufacturing hub outside Addis Ababa that was built by China and occupied by factories of Chinese manufacturers. According to Chinese media and the vice director of the industrial zone, there were 83 companies resident within the zone, of which 56 had started production. However, a study in Geoforum noted that the EIZ has yet to serve as a catalyst for Ethiopia's overall economic development due to many factors including poor infrastructure outside the zone. Discrepancies between the two countries' industries also mean that Ethiopia cannot benefit from direct technological transfer and innovation.
From October 2011 to February 2012, Chinese companies were contracted to supersede the century-old Ethio-Djibouti Railways by constructing a new electric standard gauge Addis Ababa–Djibouti Railway. The new railway line, stretching more than 750 kilometres (470 mi) and travelling at 120 km/h (75 mph), shortens the journey time between Addis Ababa and Dijbouti from three days to about 12 hours. The first freight service began in November 2015 and passenger service followed in October 2016. On China–Ethiopia cooperation on international affairs, China's Foreign Minister Wang Yi said that China and Ethiopia are both developing countries, and both countries are faced with a complicated international environment. He stated that the partnership will be a model at the forefront of developing China–Africa relations.
In May 2014, Premier Li Keqiang signed a cooperation agreement with the Kenyan government to build the Mombasa–Nairobi Standard Gauge Railway connecting Mombasa to Nairobi. The railway cost US$3.2bn and was Kenya's biggest infrastructure project since independence. The railway was claimed to cut the journey time from Mombasa to Nairobi from 9 hours by bus or 12 hours on the previous railway to 4.5 hours. In May 2017, Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta called the 470 km railway a new chapter that "would begin to reshape the story of Kenya for the next 100 years". According to Kenya Railways Corporation, the railway carried 1.3 million Kenyans with a 96.7% seat occupancy and 600,000 tons of cargo in its first year of operation. Chinese media claim that the railway line boosted the country's GDP by 1.5% and created 46,000 jobs for locals and trained 1,600 railway professionals.
On 12 January 2019, Nigeria's first standard gauge railway, which has been successfully operated for 900 days, had no major accidents since its inception. With the successful completion of the railway construction by China Civil Engineering Construction Company (CCECC), the Abuja Kaduna train service began commercial operation on 27 July 2016. The Abuja-Kaduna Railway Line is one of the first standard railroad railway modernization projects (SGRMP) in Nigeria. This is the first part of the Lagos-Kano standard metrics project, which will connect the business centres of Nigeria with the economic activity centres of the northwestern part of the country.
In a resolution of the Johannesburg Summit of the China-Africa Cooperation Forum in 2015, the Chinese government promised to provide satellite television to 10,000 African villages. It is reported that each of the 1,000 selected villages in Nigeria, the most populous country in Africa, will receive two sets of solar projection television systems and a set of solar 32-inch digital TV integrated terminal systems. A total of 20,000 Nigerian rural families will benefit from the project. Kpaduma, an underdeveloped rural community on the edge of the Nigerian capital of Abuja, is familiar with analog TV and has no chance to see the satellite TV channels enjoyed by people in Nigerian towns. The implementation of the project will create more jobs, 1,000 Nigerians in selected villages have received training on how to install, recharge and operate satellite TV systems.
Future plans include developing railways, roads, ports, a nuclear power station, solar power farms and more dams for irrigation and electricity generation.
Freight train services between China and Europe were initiated in March 2011. The service's first freight route linked China to Tehran. The China–Britain route was launched in January 2017 As of 2018, the network had expanded to cover 48 Chinese cities and 42 European destinations, delivering goods between China and Europe. The 10,000th trip was completed on 26 August 2018 with the arrival of freight train X8044 in Wuhan, China from Hamburg, Germany. The network was further extended southward to Vietnam in March 2018.
Poland was one of the first European countries to sign a Memorandum of Understanding with China about the BRI in 2015.
The foreign ministers of China and Greece signed a Memorandum of Understanding related to further cooperation under the Belt and Road initiative on 29 August 2018. COSCO revitalized and currently runs the Port of Piraeus.<name=':Belt&Road> "China and Greece are "natural partners" in Belt & Road Initiative - Belt & Road News". 12 November 2019.Both China and Greece see each other as natural allies in developing the Belt & Road", President Xi said at the start of a state visit aimed at deepening cooperation with Greece across the board, adding his desire to "keep the momentum going" and "reinforce" bilateral relations
During a visit of Chancellor Kurz to China in April 2019, a Memorandum of Understanding was signed on Austria's cooperation in the BRI project. According to Kurz, Austria "support[s] the One Belt One Road initiative and [is] trying to forge a close economic cooperation [with China]. Austria has know-how and expertise to offer in many areas where China is looking for the same".
On 27 March 2019, Luxembourg signed an agreement with China to cooperate on Belt and Road Initiative.
On 4 April 2019, the President of Armenia Armen Sarkissian received a delegation led by Shen Yueyue, Vice-Chairwoman of the National People's Congress Standing Committee of China in Yerevan, Armenia. President Sarkissian stated that Armenia and China are ancient countries with centuries-old tradition of cooperation since the existence of the Silk Road. The President noted the development of cooperation in the 21st century in the sidelines of the One Belt One Road program initiated by the top leadership of China and stated that "It’s time for Armenia to become part of the new Silk Road".
On 25 April 2019, the Minister of Infrastructure and Regional Development of Georgia Maya Tskitishvili stated that, "One Belt-One Road initiative is important for Georgia and the country is actively involved in its development." She also noted that Georgia was among the first countries who signed the memorandum for developing the 'One Belt-One Road' initiative in March 2015.
Russia and EEU
On 26 April 2019, the leaders of Russia and China called their countries "good friends" and vowed to work together in pursuing greater economic integration of Eurasia. On the sidelines of the Belt and Road Forum in Beijing, Chinese President Xi Jinping and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin pledged to further strengthen economic and trade cooperation between the two sides. Vladimir Putin further stated that, "countries gathering under the Belt and Road Initiative and the Eurasian Economic Union share long-term strategic interests of peace and growth".
On June 2019, Xi and Putin stated they were committed to the concept of building the "Great Eurasian Partnership". That took the form of Xi stating that he had agreed with Putin to link the Eurasian Economic Union with China's Belt & Road Initiative.
The China–Belarus Industrial Park is a 91.5 km2 (35.3 sq mi) special economic zone established in Smolevichy, Minsk in 2013. According to the park's chief administrator, 36 international companies have settled in the park as of August 2018. Chinese media said the park will create 6,000 jobs and become a real city with 10,000 residents by 2020.
The five countries of Central Asia – Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan – are an important part of the land route of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).
As of April 2019, Kazakhstan invested about $30 billion on infrastructure development, transport and logistics assets and competence as part of the Belt and Road Initiative. Due Kazakhstan's infrastructure modernization, The Western Europe – Western China intercontinental highway now connects Europe and China through Russia and Kazakhstan.
During his 2016 policy address, Hong Kong chief executive Leung Chun-ying's announced his intention of setting up a Maritime Authority aimed at strengthening Hong Kong's maritime logistics in line with Beijing's economic policy. Leung mentioned "One Belt, One Road" no fewer than 48 times during the policy address, but details were scant.
In 2016, China Railway International won a bid to build Indonesia's first high-speed rail, the 140 km (87 mi) Jakarta–Bandung High Speed Rail. It will shorten the journey time between Jakarta and Bandung from over three hours to forty minutes The project, initially scheduled for completion in 2019, was delayed by land clearance issues. 2000 locals are working on the project.
In Laos, construction of the 414 km (257 mi) Vientiane–Boten Railway began on 25 December 2016 and is scheduled to be completed in 2021. It is China's first overseas railway project that will connect to China's railway network. Once operational, the Laos–China Railway will be Laos' longest and connect with Thailand to become part of the proposed Kunming–Singapore railway, extending from the Chinese city of Kunming and running through Thailand and Laos to terminate at Singapore. It is estimated to cost US$5.95 billion with 70% of the railway owned by China, while Laos's remaining 30% stake will be mostly financed by loans from China. However, it faces opposition within Laos due to the high cost of the project.
Maldives undertook a number of China funded projects under the Presidency of Abdullah Yameen (2013–18), including the China Maldives Friendship Bridge, The Velana International Airport and the artificial island of Hulhulmale. Many of these investments were made without adequate disclosures to the public on their cost and other terms. Under President Yameen, Maldives also amended its constitution to allow foreigners to own land in the archipelago - following which the island of Feydhoo Finholu was taken up on a long term lease by a Chinese company.
Under the Premiership of Najib Razak, Malaysia signed multiple investment deals with China, including a US$27 billion East Coast Rail Link project, pipeline projects worth more than $3.1 billion, as well as a $100 billion Forest City in Johor. During the 2018 Malaysian general election, then-opposition leader Mahathir Mohamad expressed disapproval of Chinese investment in Malaysia, comparing it to selling off the country to foreigners. Upon election as Prime Minister of Malaysia, Mahathir labelled the China-funded projects as "unfair" deals authorized by former prime minister Najib Razak and would leave Malaysia "indebted" to China.
In August 2018, at the end of an official visit to China, Mahathir cancelled the East Coast Rail Link project and two other pipeline projects that had been awarded to the China Petroleum Pipeline Bureau. These had been linked to corruption at state fund 1Malaysia Development Berhad, citing a need to reduce debt incurred by the previous government.
It will be deferred until such time we can afford, and maybe we can reduce the cost also if we do it differently.
In addition, Mahathir also threatened to deny foreign buyers a long-stay visa, prompting a clarification by Housing Minister Zuraida Kamaruddin and the Prime Minister's Office.
The project undergo negotiations for several months and close to be cancelled off. After rounds of negotiation and diplomatic mission, the ECRL project is resumed after Malaysia and China agreed to continue the project with reduced cost of RM 44 billion (US$10.68 billion) from the original of RM 65.5 billion.
The China–Pakistan Economic Corridor is a major Belt and Road Initiative project encompassing investments in transport, energy and maritime infrastructure.
China's main investment in Sri Lanka was the Magampura Mahinda Rajapaksa Port, mostly funded by the Chinese government and built by two Chinese companies. It claims to be the largest port in Sri Lanka after the Port of Colombo and the "biggest port constructed on land to date in the country". It was initially intended to be owned by the Government of Sri Lanka and operated by the Sri Lanka Ports Authority, however it incurred heavy operational losses and the Sri Lankan government was unable to service the debt to China. In a debt restructuring plan on 9 December 2017, 70% of the port was leased and port operations were handed over to China for 99 years, The deal gave the Sri Lankan government $1.4 billion, that they will be using to pay off the debt to China. This led to accusations that China was practicing debt-trap diplomacy.
The port's strategic location and subsequent ownership spurred concern over China's growing economic footprint in the Indian Ocean and speculation that it could be used as a naval base. The Sri Lankan government promised that it was intended "purely for civilian use".
Colombo International Financial City built on land reclaimed from the Indian Ocean and funded with $1.4bn in Chinese investment is a special financial zone and another major Chinese investment in Sri Lanka.
In Thailand in 2005, the Chinese pharmaceutical company, Holley Group, and the Thai industrial estate developer, Amata Group, signed an agreement to develop the Thai–Chinese Rayong Industrial Zone. Since 2012, Chinese companies have also opened solar, rubber, and industrial manufacturing plants in the zone, and the zone expects the number to increase to 500 by 2021. Chinese media have attributed this to Thailand's zero tax incentives on land use and export products as well as favorable labor costs, and claimed that the zone had created more than 3000 local jobs.
In December 2017, China and Thailand began the construction of a high-speed railway that links the cities of Bangkok and Nakhon Ratchasima, which will be extended to Nong Khai to connect with Laos, as part of the planned Kunming–Singapore railway. The first high-speed rail rail station in Thailand should be complete in 2021, with lines to enter service in 2024.
North and South America
Panama was the first to sign BRI agreements, followed by Bolivia, Antigua and Barbuda, Trinidad and Tobago, and Guyana.
The Argentine-China Joint Hydropower Project will build two dams on the Santa Cruz River in southern Argentina: Condor Cliff and La Barrancosa. The China Gezhouba Group Corporation (CGGC) will be responsible for the project, which is expected to provide 5,000 direct and 15,000 indirect jobs in the country. It will generate 4,950 MWh of electricity, reducing the dependence on fossil fuels.
Financial and research institutions
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 the public access to social services.
The Articles of Agreement of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) (the legal framework) 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.
University Alliance of the Silk Road
A university alliance 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. The network extends beyond the economic zone, and includes a law school alliance to "serve the Belt and Road development with legal spirit and legal culture".
Background: Infrastructure-based development
China is a world leader in infrastructure investment. In contrast with the general underinvestment in transportation infrastructure in the industrialized world after 1980 and the pursuit of export-oriented development policies in most Asian and Eastern European countries, China has pursued an infrastructure-based development strategy, which has resulted in engineering and construction expertise and a wide range of modern reference projects from which to draw, including roads, bridges, tunnels, and high-speed rail projects. Collectively, many of China's projects are called "mega-infrastructure".
Members of the World Pensions Council (WPC), a non-profit policy research organization, have argued the Belt and Road initiative constitutes a natural extension of the infrastructure-driven economic development framework that has sustained the rapid economic growth of China since the adoption of the Chinese economic reform under chairman Deng Xiaoping, which could eventually reshape the Eurasian economic continuum, and, more generally, the international economic order.
Between 2014 and 2016, China's total trade volume in the countries along the Belt and Road exceeded $3 trillion, created $1.1 billion revenues and 180,000 jobs for the countries involved. However, partnering countries worry whether the large debt burden on China to promote the Initiative will make China's pledges declaratory.
Accusations of neocolonialism
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 as China practice of debt trap diplomacy to fund the initiative's infrastructure projects.
Swaine (2019) describes such accusations as concerns grossly inflated and oversold, attributing repayment problems in individual cases to reckless and inexperienced practices as opposed to premeditation on the part of Chinese investment. The Chinese government characterizes claims of neocolonialism or debt-trap diplomacy as manipulations to sow mistrust about China's intentions. 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. Blanchard (2018) argues that the potential scope of the benefits may not be fully recognized and the negatives exaggerated, noting that critics are concerned with disparaging Chinese investments and suggesting that they should shift their focus to empowering host countries instead. Poghosyan (2018) states that some Chinese experts claim that such Western perceptions of the Belt and Road Initiative are misconstrued due to Western conceptions of development as seen through their own lens of exploitation of others for resources—as exemplified by western European colonialism—instead of through Chinese conceptions of development. Set to differentiate from the coercive nature as was characterized by Western colonialism, as stated by Xing (2017), China's strategic paradigm for the Belt and Road Initiative involves the active participation and cooperation of partner 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. 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.
Increasing climate change
Practically, developing infrastructural ties with its neighboring countries will reduce physical and regulatory barriers to trade by aligning standards. China is also using the Belt and Road Initiative to address excess capacity in its industrial sectors, in the hopes that whole production facilities may eventually be migrated out of China into BRI countries.
A report from Fitch Ratings suggests that China's plan to build ports, roads, railways, and other forms of infrastructure in under-developed Eurasia and Africa is out of political motivation rather than real demand for infrastructure. The Fitch report also doubts Chinese banks' ability to control risks, as they do not have a good record of allocating resources efficiently at home, which may lead to new asset-quality problems for Chinese banks that most of funding is likely to come from.
The Belt and Road Initiative is believed by some analysts to be a way to extend Chinese influence at the expense of the US, in order to fight for regional leadership in Asia. 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.
An analysis by the Jamestown Foundation suggests that the BRI also serves Xi Jinping's intention to bring about "top-level design" of economic development, whereby several infrastructure-focused state-controlled firms are provided with profitable business opportunities in order to maintain high GDP growth. Through the requirement that provincial-level companies have to apply for loans provided by the Party-state to participate in regional BRI projects, Beijing has also been able to take more effective control over China's regions and reduce "centrifugal forces".
Another aspect of Beijing's motivations for BRI is the initiative's internal state-building and stabilisation benefits for its vast inland western regions such as Xinjiang and Yunnan. Academic Hong Yu argues that Beijing's motivations also lie in developing these less developed regions, with increased flows of international trade facilitating closer economic integration with the China's inland core. Beijing may also be motivated by BRI's potential benefits in pacifying China's restive Uyghur population. Harry Roberts suggests that the Communist Party is effectively attempting to assimilate and pacify China's Uyghur community by using economic opportunities to increase integration between Han settlers and the native population.
Reactions over the world
Supporters of the project
Moscow has been an early partner of China in the New Silk Roads project. President Putin and President Xi have met several times in the last decade and have already agreed on developments which will be of mutual benefit. In March 2015, Russia's First Deputy Prime Minister 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”. Russia and China now have altogether 150 common projects for Eurasian Union and China. These projects, some under the "Polar Silk Road" plan, include gas transmission system, gas refinery plants, manufacturing of vehicles, heavy industries, and new types of services. Not only that, China Development Bank loaned Russia the equivalent of more than 9.6 billion U.S. dollars. An additional proof both countries are growing into a strong partnership is that in official report titled "The Belt and Road Initiative: Progress, Contributions, and Prospects" Russia was mentioned 18 times, the most out of all countries except China.
One of China's claimed official priority is to benefit its neighbors before everyone else. During the second Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation which was held in May 2019, Xi Jinping reaffirmed his will to promote regional trade whether it was with President Vorachith of Laos or Prime Minister Lee of Singapore and that, for the benefit of all the parties. This goes in line with the joint effort decided in November 2015 to move Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN)-China relation to a higher level of economic cooperation in areas such as Agriculture, IT, Transport, Communications, etc.
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 amount of trade between the two entities has grown almost ten-fold over the last 10 years. That is because China does not see the Middle East as their 'petrol station' anymore. Many further areas of commerce are being involved nowadays; ports in Oman, factories in Algeria, skyscrapers in Egypt's new capital, etc. China is interested in providing financial security to those countries, who after many Arab wars and American interventions, live off the U.S support. On the one hand, Arab countries gain independence and on the other, China opens the door of a colossal market. As the president of Lebanon Michel Aoun stated, "We regard China as a good friend and are willing to further consolidate the relationship with China. We would like to draw the experience from China’s reform and development so as to benefit our people and seek our opportunities for development". An additional advantage on China's part is that it plays a neutral role on the level of diplomacy. China is not interested in intervening between Saudi Arabia and Iran's conflict for instance. Therefore, it succeeds in trading with countries which are enemies.
Attending the second Belt and Road Forum, former president of the world bank and current president of the UNECA Vera Songwe said: "This (BRI) is probably one of the biggest growths and development initiatives that we have in the world". The statement well sums up the general stand of African countries. Just like Arab countries, they see the BRI as a tremendous opportunity for independence from the foreign aid and influence. More than half the continent has already signed partnerships with the Middle Kingdom. Lu Kang, spokesman for China's Ministry of Foreign Affairs recently declared: "We will advance bilateral cooperation in areas including industries, infrastructure, trade and investment, improve the living standards of African people, bring more development dividends to African countries, and deliver more benefits to people in China and Africa". Not only that, he continued saying: "The two sides have already launched many important cooperation projects and achieved early harvests".
Greece, Croatia and 14 other eastern Europe countries are already dealing with China within the frame of the BRI. While most of them still suffer the aftereffect of the 2008 economic crisis, proponents argue that China's approach creates a new range of opportunities. In March 2019, Italy was the first member of the Group of Seven nations to join the Chinese Initiative. The new partners signed a 2.5 billion euros “Memorandum of Understanding” across an array of sectors such as transport, logistics and port infrastructure to strengthen financial cooperation. The Italian PM immediately affirmed his trust toward China declaring: "Cooperation is bigger than competition between China and Europe". Italian PM Giuseppe Conte's decision was followed soon thereafter by neighboring countries Luxembourg and Switzerland. A few weeks later, China won another victory by consolidating billions of dollars' worth of infrastructure deals with the 16+1 Nations, which changed its name to the 17+1 group, as it saw Greece join the alliance as well.
Opponents to the project
Australia, Japan, India and the US 'Indo-Pacific Vision'
Japan, India and Australia joined forces to create an alternative to the Belt and Road creating the “Blue Dot Network”. In reality, very few details are known about the project although it was initiated in 2016. By and large, the cooperation highlighted two topics: securing the Pacific Sea and guaranteeing free trade in the region.
Recently, the US joined the initiative thus renaming the alliance into the Free and Open Indo-Pacific strategy (FOIP). President Donald Trump has begun translating the U.S. Free and Open Indo-Pacific strategy (FOIP) into more concrete initiatives across what officials have articulated as three pillars – security, economics, and governance. This can be seen as a direct counterattack against China which expands its military and whose communist roots are viewed by some as antagonistic to the idea of free trade.
World Pensions Council director M. Nicolas J. Firzli has argued that the United States and its allies will strive to court large private sector asset owners such as pension funds, inviting them to play an increasingly important geo-economic part across the Asia Pacific area, alongside US and other state actors:
Even the self-absorbed, thrifty 'America first' policy makers in the White House eventually realized they couldn’t ignore these fateful geo-economic developments. In November 2018, vice-president Mike Pence travelled to Asia to promote President Trump's 'Indo-Pacific Vision', an ambitious plan backed by tens of billions of dollars in new loans and credit-enhancement mechanisms to encourage "private investment in regional infrastructure assets", insisting that "business, not bureaucrats will facilitate our efforts". The new great game has just started, and pension investors will be courted assiduously by both Washington and Beijing in the coming years – not a bad position to be in in the 'age of geoeconomics'.
At the beginning of June 2019, there has been a redefinition of the general definitions of "free" and "open" into four specific principles – respect for sovereignty and independence; peaceful resolution of disputes; free, fair, and reciprocal trade; and adherence to international rules and norms. Leaders committed that the United States and India should intensify their economic cooperation to "make their nations stronger and their citizens more prosperous".
Recently, Italy and Greece have been the first major powers to join the Belt and Road Initiative, stressing the urgency for the E.U to clarify its positions towards China international policies. Indeed, whereas Italy's Deputy Prime Minister Luigi Di Maio told that the accord was "nothing to worry about", French and German leaders are less optimistic. President Macron even said in Brussels that "the time of European naïveté is ended". "For many years", he added, "we had an uncoordinated approach and China took advantage of our divisions."
At the end of March 2019, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker joined for talks with Xi in Paris in company of President Macron. There, Macron exhorted China to "respect the unity of the European Union and the values it carries in the world". Juncker on his end stressed that European companies should find "the same degree of openness in the China market as Chinese ones find in Europe." In the same vein, Merkel declared that the BRI "must lead to a certain reciprocity, and we are still wrangling over that bit." In January 2019 Macron said: "the ancient Silk Roads were never just Chinese … New roads cannot go just one way."
In late December 2018 Germany tightened its policies around foreign trade, increasing their ability to restrict certain direct or indirect acquisitions of shares in German companies on based on national security.
As a consequence to the growing criticism of the Belt and Road Initiative and the lacking transparency, European Commission Chief Jean-Claude Juncker and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe signed an infrastructure agreement in Brussels on the 27thof September 2019. This pact between Europe and Japan is ought to counter China’s Belt and Road Initiative and link Europe and Asia to coordinate infrastructure, transport and digital projects.
Furthermore, the EU is one of the biggest development donors in the world and many African economies, which are being observed as a backdoor for EU investments and partnerships, have been neglected in recent decades and therefore, the EU fears being outflanked by China and its major investments in the infrastructure in the African region.
With regard to the already declining cohesion within the EU, EU diplomats are fearing a further destabilization of the region due to varying China attitudes and policies among the countries and the increasing geopolitical power of China, especially in the South-Eastern countries that are running into big debt.
European economists and ambassadors are also rising serious concerns about the impacts of the New Silk Road on the balance of power in International Trade and fear a shift towards China in favor of its highly subsidized and state-owned companies. Moreover, the Chinese rise regarding economic success and digitalization and the major comparative advantages the Chinese companies could establish in this field in recent decades are going to challenge European companies in particular and require reforms within the EU in order to ensure the competitiveness of European companies.
Even though China stated that its massive infrastructural project is going to benefit every country that is being affected, there is apprehension across European countries that the Initiative is going to undermine European environmental and social standards and counter the EU’s agenda for liberalizing trade.
- 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
- Calabrese, L. (2019) China and global development: what to read ahead of the Belt and Road Forum. London: Overseas Development Institute.
- Griffiths, Richard T. Revitalising the Silk Road—China’s Belt and Road Initiative (2017) online review
- Contessi, Nicola P. (2016). "Central Asia in Asia: Charting Growing Transregional Linkages". Journal of Eurasian Studies. 7: 3–13. doi:10.1016/j.euras.2015.11.001.
- 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
- World Pensions Council (WPC) policy paper: Chinese Revolution Could Lure Overseas Investment, Dow Jones Financial News, 12 October 2015
- The New York Times – "Behind China's $1 Trillion Plan", 13 May 2017
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