Table of Contents
The third summit for China’s Belt and Road program (BRI) since President Xi Jinping introduced the recognizable global development program ten years ago is taking place in Beijing this week.
The BRI meeting, one of the largest foreign gatherings since China ended its zero-covid policy and expanded borders, is remarkable for both those in attendance and those who are not.
Viktor Orbán, the prime minister of Hungary, who is considerably more supportive of China than other EU leaders, is set to be the most senior envoy from the EU among those from more than 130 nations attending the two-day summit, which begins on Tuesday.
What is BRI?
The Chinese government launched the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), a massive infrastructure and economic development project, in 2013. It aspires to encourage infrastructure development, promote economic cooperation, and improve trade connectivity across Asia, Europe, Africa, and beyond. The program is divided into two main parts: the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road, which stresses sea-based links, and the Silk Road Economic Belt, which concentrates on land-based connectivity.
China uses the BRI in a number of ways to influence other countries. First, it provides significant financial loans and investments to member nations for the construction of infrastructure like ports, trains, and energy facilities. These investments can support the growth of weak economies, but they can lead to debt dependency, providing China with significant sway over allies.
Second, the BRI promotes connectivity and trade, which strengthens China’s global economic influence. It guarantees dependable access to markets, energy sources, and raw commodities. BRI projects frequently award contracts to Chinese firms, supporting the nation’s export-driven economy. Additionally, the BRI functions as a diplomatic weapon that helps China influence international norms and standards while also forging tighter ties with participating nations.
The Controversies Surrounding BRI
Many critics, especially in western nations, contend that the BRI can result in debt traps, a lack of transparency, environmental issues, and geopolitical conflicts because it is perceived by some as a means for China to increase its geopolitical influence and control in the areas where it invests, which is accurate by all measures.
While China’s development finance institutions gave recipient nations roughly $331 billion (£271 billion) between 2013 and 2021, according to recent research from Boston University, “many of the beneficiaries of Chinese finance are subject to substantial debt distress.” According to a different study released earlier this year, China has also spent approximately $240 billion bailing out nations that are having trouble paying their BRI obligations.
According to Linda Calabrese, a research fellow at ODI, a global affairs think tank, BRI finance was increasingly concentrated on smaller initiatives with specific agendas pertaining to social or political goals. This movement is also being pushed by borrowers, who are getting more and more worried about getting stuck with excessive debt or infrastructure projects.
China’s new development concept, the global development initiative (GDI), which is connected to the UN’s sustainable development goals, was introduced by Xi last year at the UN General Assembly. The initiative sharpened the focus of the BRI as a business initiative compared to the more usual development-focused GDI.”
Beijing wants to focus on quality rather than quantity when it comes to financing to and investing in foreign countries. The Chinese government stated that “the ultimate objective of the BRI is to help build an international community of shared future” in a white paper that was released last week. According to the white paper, this entails concentrating on problems other than economic progress, like food security, infectious illnesses, artificial intelligence, and climate change.
The white paper emphasized “high-quality growth,” which has become a catchphrase for China’s domestic economic strategy. Despite having the second-largest economy in the world and a weight on the international scene second only to the US, Beijing has attempted to portray itself in recent months as a member of the global south.
China’s alignment with the global south may be difficult to sustain with regard to raw economic development, as China has accelerated its transition from a low-income to an upper-middle-income country. However, with a strong emphasis on the global south at this week’s BRI meeting, Beijing is attempting to demonstrate that its approach to the global south remains more appealing than that of Brussels or Washington.