One Belt, One Road's Governance Deficit Problem

How China Can Ensure Transparency and Accountability

A general view of "Colombo Port City" construction site is seen in Colombo, Sri Lanka, March 2017.  Dinuka Liyanawatte / REUTERS

China’s One Belt, One Road (OBOR) initiative represents by far the country’s most ambitious global project, connecting China, the world’s second-largest economy, with Africa, Central and Southeast Asia, Europe, and the Middle East through transportation and trade infrastructure. OBOR’s two main components, the Silk Road Economic Belt and the Maritime Silk Road, comprise a multi-trillion-dollar plan spanning 68 countries, which together account for 60 percent of the world’s population and up to 40 percent of global GDP.

Such a large-scale plan comes with tremendous risks, of course. The majority of the OBOR route nations have the potential to default or fall victim to other forms of political instability. But although China obviously has to pay attention to these risk factors, it also needs to solve a governance deficit problem plaguing the project both within China and along the OBOR route in order to fulfill the mission of advancing global development while increasing its own global influence. Consolidating institutions that strengthen accountability, transparency, and participation in OBOR policymaking and implementation may help China overcome the governance deficit challenge.


The Silk Road Economic Belt involves a series of overland infrastructure links across Eurasia, whereas the Maritime Silk Road is a plan to build and manage ports at strategically important locations in order to eventually connect China to Africa and the Middle East by sea. Along both the land and sea routes, Chinese corporations will build economic zones, industrial parks, and other facilities, such as power plants, to boost the regional economy and improve the livelihoods of local residents. Through massive state-sponsored lending, these corporations expect to benefit substantially from exporting equipment and products and undertaking lucrative construction projects tied to OBOR. China hopes its leadership role in the initiative will improve its image as a great power in its neighborhood and other corners of the world.

As an expensive cross-regional investment and development plan, OBOR is full of uncertainties. International media outlets and commentators have documented

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