Checking in on China’s Belt and Road Initiative

We are pleased to share with you our October occasional paper on the subject of China’s Belt and Road Initiative. Entitled “Checking in on China’s Belt and Road Initiative”, the paper breaks down what the initiative is, what it isn’t, and what it means for ‘participant countries’ like the Philippines. The paper was written by Dr. Alek Chance, non-resident fellow at the Stratbase ADR Institute.

The occasional paper observes that Chinese President Xi Jinping’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) has over the last two years elicited significant amounts of attention from the rest of the world. Unfortunately, there are still plenty of reasons for observers to remain uncertain about what the initiative entails and the prospects for its overall impact. For this reason, the Philippines and other participating countries must evaluate the differing views on the initiative’s economic viability, geographic scope and strategic implications.

Chance concludes that focusing too much on BRI as a brand can be misleading. Grants and loans from other countries or multilateral institutions are often more significant than BRI inputs, but have received less attention. The reality is that BRI’s tendency to be connected to any or all infrastructure or economic development programs means that the initiative’s vagueness, combined with international media hype, generates free soft power for China.

For now, without a meaningful multilateral forum for maximizing the gains of connectivity and the multiplier effects of investment, there is no assurance yet that BRI can become more than a list of Chinese loans or bilateral trade facilitation deals. At worst, partners should remain alert to the risk of hosting the next iteration of debt-ridden Sri Lanka’s Mattala Airport. These concerns have already been raised in the Philippines. Finally, at the diplomatic and strategic levels, promoting BRI may contribute to the legitimization of a particular view of globalization and international order.

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