The Belt and Road Initiative, or BRI, is a Chinese foreign policy which was introduced in 2013. It is a policy to implement new infrastructure projects, like the introduction of increased railways, energy pipes, and highways to bolster connectivity across Europe and Asia. This massive plan, previously called the One Belt One Road or OBOR, is President Xi Jing Ping’s initiative that harkens back to the original Silk Road — a road, or network of infrastructure that connected Europe to Asia.
Considering China’s motivations behind this initiative, President Xi hopes to open new trade routes within developing countries in particular, suggesting a push for strong economic and geopolitical ties as well. During the BRI’s short lived time, several countries have joined the initiative. Infrastructure projects have already been completed in Ethiopia, Kenya, Sri Lanka, Italy, Greece, and Pakistan, to name a few.
Despite the monumental growth of these new infrastructure projects, the essential question still remains: should other parties, particularly developing countries, join the BRI? Before deciding, it is important to look at the pros and cons of the BRI.
The advantages include new infrastructure and new connectivity between the developing nations to more developed nations like China and Europe. The Council for European Studies writes that the BRI can enhance productivity, boost trade and infrastructure construction in Europe, reducing trade barriers to spur an economy. Furthermore, investing in infrastructure creates income opportunities and generates jobs, directly through construction and maintenance of these projects by using labor-based methods. This increases the use of local resources (labor and materials) that can further stimulate the local economy.
Through the BRI, an increase in trade can lead to a massive reduction of poverty. The World Bank finds that if the BRI projects are fully implemented, travel times along economic corridors would be reduced by 12%, increase trade up to 9.7%, and lift 7.6 million people from extreme poverty and 32 million from moderate poverty.
Other advantages include Chinese spread of power grids, mitigating energy poverty or even bringing new technology to the developing world.
However, many countries have speculated that the BRI is not fully what as it seems. Previously, China has preyed on developing countries that have vulnerable economies. Accusation of debt trapping diplomacy involved one country intentionally extending excess amounts of credit to another, who were then unable to fully pay back the debt. This typically involved the lending country taking advantage of the receipt country to make political or economic recessions. Historically, after Sri Lanka was unable to pay back debt, China seized a port that will now be owned by them the next for the next 99 years. Such practices undercut the legitimacy of the BRI and have detrimental impacts.
An increase in debt can lead to countries implementing austerity measures: a system of cutting social spending to provide for a stepping economy. This would be disastrous as those who rely on social services like health or education, could likewise be placed into poverty. Unfortunately, cutting social spending could lead to an increase in poverty by up to 137 million people.
Despite both the good and the bad, the Belt and Road is yet to be completed and the debate of joining the BRI has not halted. The introduction of the BRI, has however, put China even higher on the global stage and provides a substantial opportunity for developing countries to have infrastructure. Where the initiative may lead is a mystery, and the implications of the BRI have yet to untangle, the BRI will continue as the most ambitious initiative of connectivity in the 21st century.
Allison Moon, Grade 10
Winston Churchill High School