The Belt and Road initiative, presented by Xi Jinping in 2013, is one of the projects that best represent the Chinese Communist Party (CCP)’s ambition on the world stage. The network of infrastructures aims to streamline trade to and from China. But, it needs a powerful propaganda tool to convince the various actors to participate in its supposed benefits. 

For almost ten years, the CCP strove to present a positive image to the outside world, but the results were different than expected.  

The propaganda, driven by the official Chinese media, was based on the slogan “Telling China’s story well,” as an initial endorsement of the goal of giving a “Voice to China.” However, this rhetoric increasingly arouses distrust among local actors. 

David Bandurski of the China Media Project explains how the CCP failed to establish credible media outlets abroad. 

“China insists that it is ready to speak louder and more convincingly in the world and that it wants to convey a real, three-dimensional and comprehensive China. But this goal is ultimately thwarted by its inability to listen and its insistence on suppressing diverse and human voices in favor of the one-dimensional, self-gratifying voice of the state.” 

The Beijing narrative shows China at the center of development and influence. It has a vast financial backing of billions of dollars and a media network in 99 countries coordinated by the state-owned People’s Daily. But independent local media in different countries sometimes clash with this narrative, especially after some adverse events involving the Chinese project. 

In Kazakhstan, where Chinese propaganda is strong, Eco China Info describes the country’s social and environmental consequences of the Belt and Road. One such project is the Astana light rail transit, which people call a monument to Kazakh corruption after evidence of embezzlement came to light. Its construction began almost 12 years ago, and only 15% of the project has been completed. 

Pakistan, which is one of the most influential countries of the Chinese regime, witnessed a growing widespread backlash against the Belt and Road projects. 

Gwadar is a port built with Chinese funds and represents a strategic point for China’s energy security.  

Since October 2022, a group of fishermen has protested against permits granted to Chinese trawlers operating in its waters. Tensions escalated to demanding the withdrawal of Chinese employees working in the port and a halt to development projects. Some protesters were arrested, further increasing tensions. Among the grievances is the failure to consider the local population when offering jobs. 

In Afghanistan, China made inroads after the U.S. withdrawal by integrating the country into the Belt and Road initiative and signing a $540 million agreement to develop an oil and gas field in the north of its territory. The anti-Chinese sentiment of the local population was not considered. 

Last month, ISIS attacked a Chinese-run hotel in Kabul, wounding five Chinese. The group expressly stated that “Chinese communists” were among its targets in the attack. 

The death in December of two workers at a nickel smelter facility, part of a Chinese project in Indonesia, triggered protests and clashes between local and Chinese workers. Two new victims further complicate the CCP’s initiative, which is gradually showing its dark side.

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