The Platform

William Cho

China’s Belt and Road Initiative has emerged as a formidable challenge to the U.S. and other major powers to counter China’s escalating ambitions and aspirations.

China’s ascension in recent years commands an analytical gaze as it strives to cast an extensive shadow over global affairs and assert itself as a nascent superpower. The global community is beckoned to turn its attention towards understanding China’s climb to global prominence, notably through the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), also hailed as the “New Silk Road.”

This vast geocultural endeavor is pivotal, as it orchestrates policy coordination, trade promotion, and cooperation across nations. It’s speculated that the initiative was crafted not solely to bolster China’s stature but also as a stratagem to sway global consensus towards its governing philosophy. Consequently, this policy has emerged as a stumbling block for major powers like the United States and India, who find themselves contending with China’s burgeoning influence and appeal.

Previously referred to as “One Belt One Road,” the BRI unfolds as a colossal developmental agenda, aspiring to erect unparalleled infrastructure and knit together economies across the vast expanses of Eurasia and Africa. This mammoth economic initiative, first unveiled a decade ago by Chinese President Xi Jinping, is a bold play to broaden China’s domestic market influence, amplify its economic and political sway, and lay the groundwork necessary for the nation to transition into a high-tech economic powerhouse. By pioneering an alternative trade pathway that fortifies China’s autonomy, the initiative is strategically positioned to question the economic clout of the United States.

By promising to slash trade costs, the BRI transport projects aim to amplify commercial activity, elevate foreign investment, and mitigate poverty. Adding a compelling allure for numerous nations, especially those in Africa and Eurasia, the initiative offers an opportunity to establish robust ties and trading frameworks that might otherwise be financially untenable. China’s strategy envisions a global health governance overhaul, intended to upgrade member nations’ access to state-of-the-art telecommunications, artificial intelligence, cloud computing, and mobile payment systems. With the United States retreating from these spheres, China has capitalized on the opportunity, filling a void that has reshaped the region’s developmental trajectory.

Over time, China has solidified its position as a crucial Asia-Pacific player, achieving substantial global influence. Notably, thirty-two international organizations and approximately 146 countries have embraced the BRI through various agreements. This corridor, stretching from the eastern lands of Asia to the heart of Europe, underscores China’s intentions to forge robust global connections. In Asia, the network encompasses 82% of the continent, bolstering Chinese governmental oversight over global supply chains, complicating geopolitical landscapes, and enabling a more assertive role in international trade engagements.

Moreover, the BRI has introduced two new trade routes that aim to seamlessly connect China with a plethora of nations. President Xi and his administration are dedicated to establishing a robust railway system that underpins trade and exports. Their expansive blueprint includes the creation of energy pipelines to enhance the exchange of energy supplies among nations, fortifying the Chinese currency, and constructing extensive highways to facilitate smoother commutes and transportation, enticing countries like Poland, Kenya, Hungary, and Egypt to forge stronger bonds with China.

China aspires to cultivate relationships across continents by strategically deploying grants and loans. This approach has enabled China to demand more strategic entry points and security infrastructures, gaining access to a network of surveillance facilities and strategic maritime ports. China’s strategy is to foster a heightened dependency among these nations, effectively enveloping them in a network of indebtedness.

The BRI encompasses six primary rail corridors designed to invigorate economic trade: the New Eurasia Land Bridge, the China-Mongolia-Russia Economic Corridor, the China-Central Asia-West Asia Economic Corridor, the China-Indochina Peninsula Economic Corridor, the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, and the China-Bangladesh-India-Myanmar Economic Corridor. The New Silk Road Economic Belt envisages a network of trade and investment hubs north of China, connecting Eurasia and carving a route through Myanmar to India. An expansive financial outlay has been invested in the initiative’s fruition, with China leaving no stone unturned to ensure the establishment of its contemporary Silk Road.

China’s financial engagement spans 46 BRI nations, with 26 receiving assets and 37 participating in construction endeavors. Iraq leads with over $10.5 billion in construction expenditures, followed by Serbia with $6.8 billion, and Indonesia with $2.4 billion. China has also invested significantly in Vietnam, Chile, Indonesia, and Zimbabwe. These investments are part of China’s broader push into cutting-edge technology and the development of robust trading networks.

A substantial amount of financial support and investment fuels China’s BRI objectives. As per the Asian Development Bank, the annual infrastructure financing needs of the New Silk Road hover around $800 billion. The Guardian reports that the aggregate financial commitment from China towards the BRI might reach upwards of $1 trillion. Other estimates suggest China has already disbursed over $210 billion, predominantly directed towards Asia, underscoring China’s ambition to become a dominant continental force. Additionally, Chinese authorities have commenced extensive construction work to facilitate route access for its partners. This project has also served as a boon for Chinese enterprises, securing “more than $340 billion in construction contracts.”

The colossal economic undertakings reflect China’s determination to carve out a superpower status and engage with nations such as Egypt and Poland, bolstering its global significance and dampening the influence of other key Asian states like India and Pakistan. This lays the groundwork for China to wield greater control over the Asia-Pacific region.

In recent times, China’s ambition to ascend to world power status, challenging the United States, has been manifested through its proactive stance in the South China Sea. The establishment of the New Silk Route stands as a counterbalance to the trade routes dominated by the U.S., with China aiming to secure safer trading and commuting pathways to consolidate its economic hegemony. This project has ensnared many member nations in debt while providing China with a clear trajectory toward global preeminence. Overall, the BRI has propelled Chinese expansion and dominance, with the corridors carved out by China sparking debates and concerns about the future stability of the world order.

A burgeoning issue in international relations is the potential for China to wield undue influence over its trading partners by miring them into debt. The BRI aims to uplift millions from poverty, yet it has become a problem for nations with divergent views on development and interaction.

The tension in economic relations between the U.S. and China, coupled with China’s slowing growth, has spurred the Chinese government to seek new export markets. While President Xi advocates for a more assertive China, the New Silk Road offers an allure too potent for lesser powers in global politics to ignore, drawing them into the program. This initiative has emerged as a formidable challenge to the U.S. and other major powers to counter China’s escalating ambitions and aspirations.

Tejvir Bawa is a graduate in political science from Zakir Husain Delhi College, University of Delhi. His areas of interest are energy security, military history and war studies.