The “project of the century” may help some economies, but at a political cost
SHUNNING all false modesty, China’s leader, Xi Jinping, calls his idea the “project of the century”. The country’s fawning media hail it as a gift of “Chinese wisdom” to the world’s development. As for the real meaning of the clumsy metaphor to describe it—the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI)—debate rages.
The term itself is confusing. The “road” refers mostly to a sea route; the “belt” is on land. Countries eager for China’s financing welcome it as a source of investment in infrastructure between China and Europe via the Middle East and Africa. Those who fear China see it instead as a sinister project to create a new world order in which China is the pre-eminent power.
One cause of confusion is that the BRI is not a single plan at all. A visitor to its website would click in vain to find a detailed explanation of its aims. There is no blueprint of the kind that China’s leaders love: so many billions of dollars to be spent, so many kilometres of track to be laid or so much new port capacity to be built by such-and-such a date.
Chinese maps show the belt and road as lines that trace the routes of ancient “silk roads” that traversed Eurasia and the seas between China and Africa (see Briefing).
That was the original conceit, but these days China talks about BRI as if it were a global project. The rhetoric has expanded to include a “Pacific Silk Road”, a “Silk Road on Ice” that crosses the Arctic Ocean and a “Digital Silk Road” through cyberspace.
For the rest of this article: https://www.economist.com/leaders/2018/07/26/chinas-belt-and-road-plans-are-to-be-welcomed-and-worried-about