The Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) is a development strategy adopted by the Chinese government and unveiled by President Xi Jinping in 2013. Also known as the Silk Road Economic Belt and 21st-century Maritime Silk Road initiative, the strategy is focused on Eurasian cooperation.

  • The term belt refers to overland infrastructure corridors linked to each other, which constitute the Silk Road Economic Belt (SREB) component of BRI.
  • The term road refers to the sea route corridors, which constitute the 21s Century Maritime Silk Road (MRS) component of BRI.

The strategy has received mixed criticism, with some political analysts seeing it as a thinly veiled push for Chinese dominance through a China-centered and largely China-controlled trading network. Others have hailed it as an appropriate and desirable counter-balance in view of major USA-centric trading arrangements such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership.

Scope

The Belt and Road Initiative

The Belt and Road Initiative is multi-branched and includes projects concerning not just transport infrastructure but also fields such as education, investments, real estate, and power grid.

The initiative addresses an infrastructure gap, with the aim of accelerating economic growth across Asia Pacific and Central and Eastern Europe.

Geographically, the initiative is structured along several land and sea corridors, involving well over 50 different Eurasian countries, and also stretching into parts of Oceania and Eastern Africa.

Silk Road Economic Belt (SRB)

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Essentially, this belt is focused on connecting countries and regions located along the ancient Silk Road networks with each other, from Eastern and Southern Asia through Central and Western Asia and into Europe. Both northern, central and southern corridors have been proposed.

The initiative involves creation of infrastructure, promotion of cultural exchange, and broadening of trade.

Many of the countries located along this belt are already members of the China-led Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB).

Belts

The northern belt: Through Central Asia and Russia and into Eastern/Northern Europe.

The central belt: Through Central Asia, West Asia, the Persian Gulf, and the Mediterranean region.

The southern belt: From China to Southeast Asia, through South Asia, to the Indian Ocean via Pakistan.

Examples of land corridors

  • The China-Mongolia-Russia Corridor that will run from the northern part of China to Russia’s Far East.
  • The Eurasian Land Bridge between Western China, Western Russia and Eastern Europe. This land corridor includes a railway that goes through China’s Xinjiang Autonomous Region, Kazakhstan, Russia, Belarus, Poland, and Germany.
  • The China – Pakistan Corridor that will go from China to Pakistan.
  • The China – Central Asia – West Asia Corridor, which will run from the western part of China to Turkey.
  • The China – Indochina Peninsula Corridor, which will go from the southern part of China to Singapore.
  • The Bangladesh-China-India-Myanmar (BCIM) Corridor, which will go from the southern part of China to Myanmar.

Maritime transportation

The 21st Century Maritime Silk Road involves South-East Asia, Oceania and North Africa, with transport ships traveling on the South China Sea, the south Pacific Ocean, and the Indian Ocean.

Many of the affected countries are already members of the China-led Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank.

The Ice Silk Road

The Ice Silk Road is a joint project between China and Russia to promote economic development in the Arctic Region. This involves, among other things, projects involving laws related to Arctic developments, as both Chinese and Russian companies are eager to carry out increased oil and natural gas exploration in the area.

Examples of projects in Asia

Sri Lanka

On July 29, 2017, the Sri Lanka Ports Authority (SLPA) and China Merchant Port Holdings signed a leasing contract for the strategically important Hambantota Port, leasing the port to China for 99 years. The deal gave the Sri Lankan government $1.4 billion, but the money will be used to pay off debt to China.

Indonesia

In 2016, China Railway International won the bid to build Indonesia’s first high-speed railway, the 140 km long Jakarta-Bandung line. The project became somewhat delayed due to issues pertaining to land clearances, but by June 2018 most of the problems had been resolved and over 2,000 local people had been hired to work on the project.

Examples of projects in East Africa

Railway in Ethiopia

Even before the announcement of the BRI, China and Chinese companies were heavily involved in African infrastructure project. One example is from 2011-2012, when Chinese companies built a new standard gauge electric railway to supersede the old Ethio-Djibouti Railway.

Freight service commenced in November 2015, followed by passenger service in October 2016. On the new railway, which is more than 750 km long, trains can travel at a speed of up to 120 km/h. A journey that used to take three days can now be completed in 12 hours.

The Mombasa-Nairobi Standard Gauge Railway in Kenya

In May 2014, the Kenyan government entered into an agreement with their Chinese counterpart for the construction of 470 km of railway between Mombasa and Nairobi.

When the Mombasa-Nairobi Standard Gauge Railway was launched in May 2017, it was Kenya’s largest infrastructure project since independence. A journey that used to take 12 hours by train or 9 hours by bus could now be made in 4.5 hours on the new railway. During its first year of operation, the railway line had a 96.7% seat occupancy and also transported 600,000 tons of cargo.

Examples of projects in Europe

The China Europe Freight Train initiative

The China Europe Freight Train initiative was initiated in 2011, and is thus older than the BRI, but it now considered a part of the BRI.

With this new service, shipping has become both faster and cheaper. There is also an environmental aspect, since this railway transport emits much less green house gasses into the air than air plane freight.

Seven year after being launched, the service had expanded to link 48 cities in China with 42 destinations in Europe. A large chunk of the cargo leaving China are garnments and autoparts, and when the trains leave Europe they are loaded with goods such as timber, machinery and food products.

In March 2018, the network expanded from China to Vietnam.

The China-Belarus Industrial Park

The China-Belarus Industrial Park is a special economic zone in Smolevichy, Minsk. By August 2018, three dozen international companies had activities within the zone. By 2020, the zone is expected to be more of a real city with roughly 10,000 residents.