Reports of Belt and Road’s Death Are Greatly Exaggerated

Don’t Underestimate China’s Resilience

A Sri Lankan worker at the construction site for Hambantota port, Sri Lanka, March 2010.. Andrew Calaballero-Reynolds / REUTERS

With the vast, ambitious investment project known as the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), China meant to pull the world closer, making itself the political and economic center of gravity for more than 60 countries within the project’s sweep. But domestic and international opposition to the initiative has mounted in the five years since President Xi Jinping announced its start. Intellectuals within China have expressed concerns about wasteful spending and overstretch. Several governments that were initially enthusiastic about Chinese investment have faced popular backlash to the terms of the loans and the potential for corruption. And the United States has recently joined countries in Europe and the Indo-Asia-Pacific region in an effort to counter the Chinese endeavor with an alternative investment scheme.

Instead of expanding its “circle of friends” and gaining influence, China seems to have done the opposite, spurring a group of disgruntled countries to band together to resist its predatory practices. Some observers claim that the Chinese leadership fails to understand the dynamics that have led other countries to push back and that this blindness increases the likelihood that Xi’s “project of the century” will soon become a fiasco.  

It would be premature, however, to write off BRI. The project remains the core of China’s foreign policy strategy. Since the 19th Chinese Communist Party Congress in October 2017, BRI has been enshrined in the party’s charter, and its corollary, the “community of shared future for mankind,” has been included in the Constitution of the People’s Republic of China since March 2018. Beijing is due to host its second Belt and Road Forum, an international planning and brainstorming event for heads of state, in April 2019.

Moreover, China’s leaders are not surprised by the current pushback. Rather, they envisaged it as a possibility from the beginning. Far from being paralyzed, the central government has taken measures to respond: since the end of the summer, Xi has been pushing back against the pushback. This course correction does not alter

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