While the focus of the 20th Congress of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) was on home policy, the Congress also revealed some important clues about China’s foreign policy, including the direction of Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).
The flagship foreign policy initiative of Xi Jinping’s China since 2013, the BRI has continued to spark mixed-feelings, while having recently revealed its practical financial limits and negative spill overs. Recent months have seen the emergence of defaulting BRI projects, and the claim that BRI-related loans contributed to the default of the Sri Lankan economy.
With such bad publicity coming all at once, and more projects expected to run into trouble, the future of the BRI has been placed under question once again. The slowdown of China’s foreign lending since 2016, and the refusal by Chinese banks to cover extra costs – such as in the case of the Jakarta-Bandung highway in Indonesia – have raised further questions over the BRI’s survival. Three new initiatives have appeared, however, that seek to transform the scope of the BRI: in 2020, the Global Data Security Initiative (GDSI); in 2021, the Global Development Initiative (GDI); and in 2022, the Global Security Initiative (GSI).
It becomes legitimate to wonder, therefore, whether the pushback against, and shortcomings of, the BRI may have led Xi Jinping to replace it with new initiatives that quietly phase out the BRI’s original conception.
The GDI, for example, appears to propose a framework that solves many of the BRI’s pitfalls and shortcomings. It focuses on providing development for third-countries, for example, leverage existing multilateral relationships to do so. The former responds to complaints that see China as the largest beneficiary of BRI agreements; while the latter allows China to spend less of its own capital for development projects, while maintaining a third-country presence.