The Forces Driving China's Belt and Road Initiative

It’s hard to imagine the world in 2049. But China can, and they’re investing over $1 trillion in it. They call it: the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).

Introduced in 2013 by the leader of the People’s Republic of China, Xi Jinping, the BRI is an immensely ambitious global development strategy adopted by the Chinese government. It involves building vast amounts of infrastructure connecting 71 countries across South-East Asia, Eastern Europe, and Africa, and aims to boost trade and economic development by opening up and creating new markets for Chinese goods. Made up of two routes, the “Silk Road Economic Belt” stretches overland via road and rail, and the “21st Century Maritime Silk Road” refers to the sea routes, hence the name “One Belt One Road” or yi dai yi lu.

The scheme however, has been subject to political controversies. Many see it as a geopolitical gambit to increase China’s regional influence (which may prove even more effective at a time when Donald Trump is slowly undermining US influence in Asia). Tom Miller, author of "China’s Asian Dream" says “it’s about making China the dominant country in the region.” Some even call the initiative a 'Chinese Marshall plan for the 21st Century', likening it to America’s initiative in 1948. The Marshall Plan had both economic and political motives, with the US giving $12billion in aid to help rebuild Western European economies after WW2, and in doing so also attempting to contain the Soviet Union’s expansionary ambitions. Chinese officials, however, are insistent that the BRI is not a modern day Marshall Plan, neither is it a state-backed campaign for global dominance.

The project is targeted for completion in 2049, coinciding with the 100th anniversary of the People’s Republic of China. This ‘modern Silk Road’ appears to be the biggest development push of all time, and Beijing believes it will kickstart a new era of globalisation, which would be impressive given the influence of current anti-globalisation populist movements. Such an ambitious project may be what is needed in a slowing global economy, and may merely be a continuation of the existing trend of increasing Chinese investment around the world.