In September 2013, Chinese President Xi Jinping first announced his strategic vision of “One Belt, One Road” (subsequently renamed the “Belt and Road Initiative” or BRI) during a speech at Nazarbayev University in the Kazakh capital. In essence, the BRI is a massive Chinese project, involving more than 130 countries, over $600 billion in existing commitments, and a total price tag estimated in the trillions of dollars, to redevelop the ancient Silk Road trade routes running between China and Europe. In his speech at Nazarbayev University, Xi suggested that China and Central Asia cooperate to build “the Belt,” the continental part of the Chinese vision, as opposed to “the Road,” the maritime segment. The choice to unveil this enormous project in a country with a relatively low international profile suggests the significance that China attaches to Kazakhstan specifically as well as the broader region in which it is situated. Indeed, Central Asia and the South Caucasus will be a key part of the BRI and home to a number of major associated projects.
China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) has both a land-based and a maritime component. This graphic provides an overview of the maritime element, the Maritime Silk Road Initiative (MSRI) which connects connects China to Europe and Africa via the Middle East. For an insight into the BRI in the Middle East, including its implications for China’s impact on the region, read Lisa Watanabe’s recent CSS Analyses in Security Policy here.
China’s Belt and Road Initiative seems to benefit only Central Asia’s richer countries.
Cynics often ask if China’s flagship Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) has increased trade between China and its neighbors, or if it threatens to trap participants in debt. There are myriad reasons why countries sign on to the BRI. Some seek to plug gaps in domestic infrastructure, some to improve global trade ties, and some because China, with its population of 1.4 billion, is an attractive market for their goods.
This week’s graphic highlights the energy and transport infrastructure that passes through Kazakhstan. For an insight into Kazakhstan’s role as a linchpin for trade, transport and more regarding China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), see Benno Zogg’s recent CSS Analyses in Security Policy here.
Following five years of periodic controversies and criticism – some factual, others contrived – President Xi Jinping used the Belt and Road (BRI) Forum in April to set the agenda for the next five years of his hallmark project. At the forum’s second edition, meant to promote a “stronger partnership network,” the Chinese leader pledged to “clean up,” stressed “zero tolerance” to corruption, and emphasized readiness to adopt “internationally acceptable” standards in the bidding process of BRI projects in the future. This language indicates Beijing’s openness to constructive criticism and willingness to objectively tweak some inherent weaknesses in the strategy and implementation mechanisms for the BRI during the 2013-2018 period. It also sets the stage for the start of “BRI 2.0,” where the stress is likely to be on the qualitative, rather than just quantitative, attributes. The following are some analytical pointers on how BRI 2.0 is likely to be different from version 1.0, especially keeping in mind what Chinese Minister of Foreign Affairs Wang Yi referred to as a “high-quality” shift from “big freehand” to “fine brushwork” in planning BRI’s future projects.