The year 2023 marked the 10th anniversary of the launch of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), a signature project of the Chinese government. This development strategy was unveiled by China’s leader, Xi Jinping, in 2013 with the ambitious aim to connect Asia, Africa, and Europe through a network of loans and infrastructure projects.
The Belt and Road Initiative, often referred to as a new Silk Road, involves a ‘belt’ of overland corridors and a maritime ‘road’ of shipping lanes. Today, approximately 140 countries and international organizations have signed BRI agreements with China, illustrating the tremendous reach and scale of this initiative.
The primary objective of BRI is to foster economic growth and improve infrastructure in participant countries. It involves infrastructure development such as power plants, ports, railway lines, highways, logistics hubs and, more recently, digital infrastructure. It’s an initiative that, according to Beijing, will stimulate economic growth across Asia and beyond.
However, criticism of the BRI has mounted over the past decade. It has often been accused of being a tool for China to foster debt dependency among developing countries for its geopolitical advantage. Concerns regarding transparency, environmental sustainability, and promoting fair and inclusive development have also been raised.
Ten years in, where does the BRI stand now? Despite the criticisms, the initiative has not slowed down. According to data from the American Enterprise Institute, as of 2021, approximately $1.3 trillion has been invested or committed under BRI projects. While facing challenges from the global pandemic, the BRI continues to push forward, adjusting its strategies to focus on a more sustainable and high-quality development approach.
The path of the BRI is far from settled. While it has achieved remarkable successes in giving less-dynamic economies a much-needed infrastructure boost, it has also faced serious challenges, and its long-term success is not assured. Whether China can successfully address criticism and make tangible reforms to the BRI, only time will tell. However, one thing is clear: a decade into its life, the Belt and Road Initiative has already left a significant impact on the global economic landscape.