The humbly named Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) is anything but humble. Also called One Belt, One Road (OBOR), it is China’s bold new vision for a network of routes featuring an overland trade route through central Asia to Europe, and a new version of the maritime Silk Road through Southeast Asia to the Middle East and Africa, together spanning more than 60 countries with a combined population of over 4 billion.
Launched in 2013 by President Xi Jinping, BRI envisions investments to the tune of several trillion dollars on new roads, railways, ports, airports, pipelines, refineries and power plants, together with supporting infrastructure. The intended result comprises new hubs of development, industry and urbanization in some of the least developed parts of the world, creating new markets for Chinese exports and jobs abroad for part of its workforce, while opening routes for the West to move expertise, products and services east. According to Merics, the Mercator Institute for China Studies, China’s aims encompass economic diversification, political stability and the development of a multipolar world order. From an economic perspective, China hopes the development of new trade routes, markets and energy sources will lead to economic growth and at the same time reduce dependencies. “Projects linked to OBOR are to once again fill the order books of Chinese state-owned enterprises, which are presently suffering from overcapacity. Furthermore, with the expansion of the Eurasian transport infrastructure, Beijing aims to lay the foundations for China-centered production networks, for instance with Chinese companies relocating production to Southeast Asia,” it says.