/ We’re all contributors in the global expansion of the New Silk Road

Dozens of nations across Eurasia have chosen to join China’s ambitious infrastructure and trade model over Transatlantic funding.

Since its official launch in 2013, China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) has been a target for much Western backlash. Whilst Beijing promises that the BRI is a tool for globalization, benefitting nations in terms of economy, trade and development, Western nations criticize the project as a ‘debt trap’ to forward China’s non-transparent, geopolitical ambitions.[1]

Despite being only six years old, the initiative has been coined the International Community 2.0, placed in front of both the Group of Twenty and the Group of Eight. Following the Second BRI Forum (BRF), which took place in April, it was announced that 131 states had signed BRI cooperation agreements, as well as a large number of IGOs. Many of these nations across Eurasia and the Global South have adopted China’s ambitious infrastructure and investment initiative in preference to transatlantic funding. The BRI model, unlike the EU, is promoted as being a country-specific, non-conditional opportunity, perhaps indicating why the China-CEEC Summit is gaining momentum, particularly in terms of the China-Europe Land-Sea Express Line.

One crucial aspect of the expansion of the BRI’s success is its partnership with the Association of the Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). Nine of the 10 ASEAN member states attended the BRF enabling further dialogue concerning the BRI’s $12 billion project which will connect southern China with Singapore via Laos, Thailand, and Malaysia. Furthermore, there has already been movement in regards to the geo-strategic China-Myanmar Economic Corridor project which will inevitably provide China with access to the Indian Ocean, expanding its Maritime Silk Road.[2]

Beijing’s BRI is financing international connectivity and globalization creating a trade platform for less-economically developed nations, however, negotiation transparency continues to be an issue as terms are lost in translation, and disputes between local authorities and Chinese contractors arise. In order to allow for increased transparency, and perhaps to quell Western skepticism, Beijing admits the importance of renegotiations and amendments, as well as local input. There are even suggestions that an external BRI arbitration court may be implemented.[3] In this historical recurrence of the Ancient Silk Road, an East-West network for trade and cultural exchange, it seems that only a small minority, including Washington, are truly unwilling to benefit from the expanding network.

[1]Zhang, A., Hornby, L., Belt and Road debt trap accusations hound China as it hosts forum, Financial Times (April 2019) <https://www.ft.com/content/3e9a0266-6500-11e9-9adc-98bf1d35a056>.

[2]Escobar, P., We’re all actors in the New Silk Road play, Asia Times (May 2019) <https://www.asiatimes.com/2019/05/article/were-all-actors-in-the-new-silk-road-play/>.

[3]Escobar, P., May 2019.

Danika SchraderIntern at the LIIA