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The Belt and Road Initiative (BRI, or B&R), known within China as the One Belt One Road (Chinese: 一带一路; pinyin: Yīdài Yīlù) or OBOR/1B1R for short, sometimes referred to as the New Silk Road, is a global infrastructure development strategy adopted by the Chinese government in 2013 to invest in more than 150 countries and international organizations. It is considered a centerpiece of the Chinese leader Xi Jinping's foreign policy. The BRI forms a central component of Xi's "Major Country Diplomacy" (Chinese: 大国外交) strategy, which calls for China to assume a greater leadership role for global affairs in accordance with its rising power and status. It has been compared to the American Marshall Plan. As of August 2023[update], 155 countries were listed as having signed up to the BRI. The participating countries include almost 75% of the world's population and account for more than half of the world's GDP.: 192
|The Silk Road Economic Belt and the 21st-century Maritime Silk Road
|One Belt, One Road (OBOR)
Xi originally announced the strategy as the "Silk Road Economic Belt" during an official visit to Kazakhstan in September 2013. "Belt" is short for the "Silk Road Economic Belt", referring to the proposed overland routes for road and rail transportation through landlocked Central Asia along the famed historical trade routes of the Western Regions; whereas "road" is short for the "21st Century Maritime Silk Road", referring to the Indo-Pacific sea routes through Southeast Asia to South Asia, the Middle East and Africa. Examples of Belt and Road Initiative infrastructure investments include ports, skyscrapers, railroads, roads, bridges, airports, dams, coal-fired power stations, and railroad tunnels.
The initiative was incorporated into the Constitution of the Chinese Communist Party in 2017. The Xi Jinping Administration describes the initiative as "a bid to enhance regional connectivity and embrace a brighter future." The project has a target completion date of 2049, which will coincide with the centennial of the People's Republic of China (PRC)'s founding.
Numerous studies conducted by the World Bank have estimated that BRI can boost trade flows in 155 participating countries by 4.1 percent, as well as cutting the cost of global trade by 1.1 percent to 2.2 percent, and grow the GDP of East Asian and Pacific developing countries by an average of 2.6 to 3.9 percent. According to London-based consultants Centre for Economics and Business Research, BRI is likely to increase the world GDP by $7.1 trillion per annum by 2040, and that benefits will be "widespread" as improved infrastructure reduces "frictions that hold back world trade". CEBR also concludes that the project will be likely to attract further countries to join, if the global infrastructure initiative progresses and gains momentum.
Supporters praise the BRI for its potential to boost the global GDP, particularly in developing countries. However, there has also been criticism over human rights violations and environmental impact, as well as concerns of debt-trap diplomacy resulting in neocolonialism and economic imperialism. These differing perspectives are the subject of active debate.
Xi announced the concept as the "Silk Road Economic Belt" on 7 September 2013 at Nazarbayev University in Astana, Kazakhstan : 75 In October 2013 during a speech delivered in Indonesia, Xi stated that China planned to build a "twenty-first century Maritime Silk Road" to enhance cooperation in southeast Asia and beyond.: 75 Premier Li Keqiang promoted the emerging BRI concept during state visits to Asia and Europe. The initiative was given intensive coverage by Chinese state media, and by 2016 had become often featured in the People's Daily.
The BRI's 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, resulting in an innovative pattern of capital inflows, talent pools, and technology databases." The Belt and Road Initiative addresses an "infrastructure gap" and thus has the potential to accelerate economic growth across the Asia Pacific, 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 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 project builds on the old trade routes that once connected China to the west, Marco Polo and Ibn Battuta's routes in the north and the maritime expedition routes of Ming dynasty admiral Zheng He in the south. The Belt and Road Initiative now refers to the entire geographical area of the historic "Silk Road" trade route, which has been continuously used in antiquity.
The goals of the BRI were officially presented for the first time in a 2015 document, the Vision and Actions on Jointly Building Belt and Road.: 76 It outlined six economic corridors for trade and investment connectivity would be implemented.: 76
While some countries, especially the United States, view the project critically because of possible Chinese influence, others point to the creation of a new global growth engine by connecting and moving Asia, Europe and Africa closer together.
The only G7 industrial country Italy has been a partner in the development of the project since March 2019, but declared its intention in July 2023 to quit the BRI. Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni stated that the project was not of any real benefit to Italy's economy. According to estimates, the entire project today affects more than 60% of the world's population and approximately 35% of the global economy. Trade along the Silk Road could soon account for almost 40% of total world trade, with a large part being by sea. The land route of the Silk Road also appears to remain a niche project in terms of transport volume in the future.
In the maritime silk road, which is already the route for more than half of all containers in the world, deep-water ports are being expanded, logistical hubs are being built and new traffic routes are being created in the hinterland. The maritime silk road runs with its connections from the Chinese coast to the south, linking Hanoi, Kuala Lumpur, Singapore, and Jakarta, then westward linking the Sri Lankan capital city of Colombo, and Malé, capital of the Maldives, and onward to East Africa, and the city of Mombasa, in Kenya. From there the linkage moves northward to Djibouti, through the Red Sea and the Suez Canal to the Mediterranean, thereby linking Haifa, Istanbul, and Athens, to the Upper Adriatic region to the northern Italian hub of Trieste, with its international free port and its rail connections to Central Europe and the North Sea.
As a result, Poland, the Baltic States, Northern Europe, and Central Europe are also connected to the maritime silk road and logistically linked to East Africa, India and China via the Adriatic ports and Piraeus. All in all, the ship connections for container transports between Asia and Europe will be reorganized. In contrast to the longer East Asian traffic via north-west Europe, the southern sea route through the Suez Canal towards the junction Trieste shortens the goods transport by at least four days.
The official name for the initiative is the Silk Road Economic Belt and 21st-Century Maritime Silk Road Development Strategy (丝绸之路经济带和21世纪海上丝绸之路发展战略), which was initially abbreviated as the One Belt One Road (Chinese: 一带一路) or the OBOR strategy. The English translation has been changed to the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) since 2016, when the Chinese government considered the emphasis on the words "one" and "strategy" were prone to misinterpretation so they opted for the more inclusive term "initiative" in its translation. However, "One Belt One Road" is still the reference term in Chinese-language media.
The Belt and Road Initiative is believed by some analysts to be a way to extend Chinese economic and political influence. 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, while others note that the BRI also serves as signposts for Chinese provinces and ministries, guiding their policies and actions. Academic Keyu Jin writes that while the BRI does advance strategic interests for China, it also reflects a Chinese vision of a world order based on "building a global community of shared future".: 281–282
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. This project can also become a new economic corridor for different regions. For example, in the Caucasus region, China considered cooperation with Armenia from May 2019. Chinese and Armenian sides had multiple meetings, signed contracts, initiated a north–south road program to solve even infrastructure-related aspects.
A 2023 study by AidData of the College of William & Mary determined that overseas port locations subject to significant BRI investment raise questions of dual military and civilian use and may be favorable for future naval bases.
Writing in 2023, David H. Shinn and academic Joshua Eisenman state that through the BRI, China seeks to strengthen its position and diminish American military influence, but that China's BRI activity is likely not a prelude to American-style military bases or American-style global military presence.: 161
Other analysts characterize China's construction of ports which could have dual-uses as an attempt to avoid the necessity of establishing military bases.: 273 According to academic Xue Guifang, China is not motivated to repeat the model of the People's Liberation Army Support Base in Djibouti.: 273
China's western regions are less developed than its coastal regions and one of China's important interests in pursuing the BRI is to increase their level of socio-economic development.: 199 BRI's goals include internal state-building and stabilization of ethnic unrest for its vast inland western regions such as Xinjiang and Yunnan, linking these less developed regions, with increased flows of international trade facilitating closer economic integration with China's inland core.
A leading group 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 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 CCP Politburo Standing Committee, was named leader of the group, and Wang Huning, Wang Yang, Yang Jing, and Yang Jiechi named deputy leaders.
On 28 March 2015, China's State Council outlined the principles, framework, key areas of cooperation and cooperation mechanisms with regard to the initiative. The BRI is considered a central element within China's foreign policy, and was incorporated into the CCP's constitution in 2017 during its 19th Congress.: 58 The BRI represents a set of fairly consistent policies for Chinese engagement with the global South, including diversifying resource and energy supplies, building loan-funded infrastructure using Chinese companies, creating new markets for Chinese companies, and engaging global South countries simultaneously at bilateral and regional levels.: 6
With regard to China and the African countries, the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) is a significant multi-lateral cooperation mechanism for facilitating BRI projects. The China-Arab States Cooperation Forum (CASCF) serves a similar coordinating role with regard to BRI projects in the Arab states.