In a 2013 speech in Kazakhstan, Chinese president Xi Jinping mentioned a plan to “jointly build an economic belt along the ‘Ancient Silk Road’” and a month later in Indonesia, the president said, “The two sides should work together to build a new Maritime Silk Road in the 21st century.”
Fast forward 6 years and president Xi Jinping’s ambitious ‘Belt and Road Initiative (BRI)’ is now a trillion dollar infrastructure spanning across 3 continents, touching 60% of the world’s population.
The project has built upon decades-old infrastructures and is now well underway to reroute global trade with China at its center, with the ultimate aim to supplant the US as the global superpower.
China says BRI is “a bid to enhance regional connectivity and embrace a brighter future.”
The reason for its success is mainly due to very lucrative deals, that are -unlike the West, attached with very few demands.
“China is seen as more flexible and less bureaucratic.” -Brooking Institution (2017)
So less democratic, developing nations such as Iraq, Yemen, Afghanistan, Tajikistan,… takes China up on this so-called ‘win-win’ deal. But what usually ends up happening is these countries have no way to pay back the loan to China. What ends up happening is China takes over a strategic asset of that country. This is infamously known as China’s debt-trap.
China leverages these deals to gain political and military influence in important areas.
Earlier this year, the Center for Global Development found eight more Belt and Road countries at serious risk of not being able to repay their loans. In 2017, as business ties strengthened between Greece and China after a deal was made, Greece successful blocked the EU’s statement condemning China human rights abuse. In Sri Lanka, China loan about $1.5 billion to build a new deepwater port, but when it was clear Sri Lanka could not pay back the loan, they gave China the port as part of the 99-year lease. The same case occurred in Pakistan, and Djibouti in 2017 where China has constructed a new naval base.
China’s first naval base overseas in Africa
In the face of the US’s isolationism, China’s intention to broaden its global influence via BRI is a concern against humanity, due to China’s indifference to human rights. And while these developing nations are gaining in short-term, the lack of a free market means that they are essentially selling themselves to become part of the Chinese political apparatus in the long-haul.
“It’s a reminder BRI is about more than roads, railways, and other hard infrastructure,” said Jonathan Hillman, director of the Reconnecting Asia project at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington. “It’s also a vehicle for China to write new rules, establish institutions that reflect Chinese interests, and reshape ‘soft’ infrastructure.”