BRI China & the rest of the world

In the last few years, we have witnessed the launch of several multibillion-dollar projects such as a new highway in Pakistan, a new rail terminal in Kazakhstan, a seaport in Sri Lanka, to list a few. All these developments are a part of one country’s initiative. Without any surprise the country is China. However, what are these projects and wh+

What do they mean on the global front is a valid question?

About the project

Launched in 2013 by President Xi Jinping, The BELT AND ROAD INITIATIVE is a vast collection of development and investment initiatives stretching across the vast land span from  East Asia to Europe. The project increases the economic and political influence of China.

President Xi announced this initiative during his official visits to Kazakhstan and Indonesia in 2013, where he mentioned the Ancient Silk Road. 

The original Silk Road was built to network trade routes that spread goods, ideas, and culture during the westward expansion of China’s Han Dynasty (206 BCE–220 CE). This silk route passed through what are today the Central Asian countries of Afghanistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, as well as India and Pakistan 

The ancient Silk Route.

The Belt and Road initiative is a two-part project which spans over 3 continents- Southeast Asia, Eastern Europe, and Africa. It covers around 60% of the world’s population, 3/4th of the global energy reserve, and 40% of the global GDP.
The first part is the Silk Road Economic Belt an overland Economic Belt of 6 corridors that serve as new routes to get goods in and out of China. The second part is a 21st-Century Maritime Silk Road – a chain of seaports stretching from the South China Sea to Africa. This also directs trade to and from China. The BRI (Belt and Road Initiative) also includes oil refineries, industrial parks, power plants, mines, and fiber-optic networks – all designed to make it easier for the world to trade with China and vice-versa.

How The BRI spans across different continents

What does it mean on the global front?

This multibillion-dollar Belt and Road Initiative has been called the Chinese Marshall plan and a Beijing state-backed campaign for global dominance. The BRI introduces a vast network of investments that critics say is a cover for Beijing to create geopolitical and financial leverage.

These BRI projects are built using low-interest loans as opposed to aid grants. This means that eventually, these countries will have to pay China back. Most of these advancements are happening in developing countries where corruption, conflict, debt are rampant, thus making that payback unlikely.

A recent report found that many countries indebted to China are vulnerable, eight of them being at high risk of being unable to pay.

In Sri Lanka, China loaned the country about 1.5 billion dollars for a new deep-water port which was a key stop on the Maritime Silk Road. By 2017, it was clear that Sri Lanka couldn’t repay the loan, so instead, they gave China control of the port as part of a 99-year lease.

China also controls the strategic port in Pakistan – where it has a 40-year lease.  It also just opened an actual Chinese naval base in Djibouti.  In response, debt-trap diplomacy became a pretty popular term.

China has been pushing for a similar agreement in the other parts of the BRI project. This will in turn end up giving China control over some of the major ports, helping  China establish a string of naval bases in the Indian Ocean and this means China will control a major part of the trade by sea.

China plans to set up international courts in Shenzhen and Xi’an, the former hub of the original Silk Road, to resolve commercial disputes related to BRI. “This acts as a reminder that BRI is about more than roads, railways-and other hard infrastructure,” said Jonathan Hillman, director of the Reconnecting Asia Project at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington and was reported in the guardian  “It’s also a vehicle for China to write new rules, establish institutions that reflect Chinese interests, and reshape ‘soft’ infrastructure.”

However, a few countries like Japan, India and Australia have felt the threat and resisted the BRI. India wishes to preserve its status as a regional maritime hegemony and Chinese infrastructure spending is seen as a means by which Beijing can encroach on that position.

Japan is busy creating its own alternative to the BRI, although it has signaled its willingness to cooperate with the initiative as a means of increasing connectivity in the Indo-Pacific. Australia in 2021 announced it would revoke a state government’s deal to join China’s Belt and Road Initiative, saying it was inconsistent with the nation’s foreign policy. 

BRI seems like China’s way of leveraging power to become a global leader. It has over the past years made its intentions clear of wanting to become the next superpower in terms of trade, economy, and political control- and by building relationships and taking control of global trade, China is well on its way in terms of trade dominance.

Nivida Sadekar



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