The Chinese Belt and Road Initiative or BRI is a global infrastructure development strategy adopted by the Chinese government in 2013 to invest in nearly 70 countries and international organizations. It refers to the entire geographical area of the historic "Silk Road" trade route, which has been used in antiquity. More than 60% of the world's population and approximately 35% of the global economy might be affected by the time of the BRI’s planned completion in 2049. To date, more than 130 countries have issued endorsements, but there has also been concern over the project being a form of neocolonialism. Some analysts believe it to be a way to extend Chinese economic and political influence. Most recently, the lines of analysis of the BRI have been excessively proliferating, which turns the topic into an unexpectedly broad field of research. It can be approached from at least six main angles: historical, geographical, ecological, political, economic, and architectural. Apart from that, experts have been formulating completely opposing opinions about each of these aspects. This issue of the GSC Newsletter aims to compress the diverse landscape of BRI research into a readable survey in order to present, in the most succinct fashion, a variety of aspects and analyses.

1. Guanie Lim: The Belt and Road Initiative in Southeast Asia: Looking Back, Moving Forward.

Grounding its analysis of the Belt and Road Initiative within Southeast Asia, China’s ‘near abroad’, this paper makes two arguments. Firstly, Chinese investment has not outcompeted that of the region’s traditional investors. Secondly, local actors have largely set the agenda on some of the initiative’s megadeals.

Visualisation of Forest City in Malaysia

2. Padraig Carmody: W(h)ither China in Africa

The Belt and Road Initiative has framed much discussion about Sino-African relations in recent years but has undergone a dramatic contraction. This short contribution argues that geopolitics and aid will become more important in Sino-African relations in the coming years.

Kilamba Kiaxi in Luanda, Angola

3. Alessandro Arduino, Mario Rasetti: The Digital Silk Road and the US-China Race for AI

The ability to transfer data at high speed and extract value from it are at the heart of the ongoing competition between China and the US. In this respect, Beijing's Digital Silk Road aims to place China at the centre of the fourth industrial revolution.

Digital sky

4. Andreea Brinza: The Winding Road of the BRI in the Central Eastern European (CEE) Region

The Belt and Road Initiative is better described as a branding strategy for China's foreign policy and overseas investments, than a geopolitical masterplan. The relations between China and Central and Eastern Europe, as part of the 16+1 mechanism, illustrate this very well.

Highway from the city of Bar in Montenegro to Serbia near Matesevo, constructed by China Road and Bridge Corporation (CRBC)

5. Alicia Garcia-Herrero. China’s Investment in the Middle East: Where Do We Stand?

China has become a key economic partner globally, also in the Middle Eastern countries. However, while trade ties continue to grow, China’s outbound investment has decelerated sharply since 2018. This is seen even more in the ME where data clearly shows a retrenchment from China both in terms of foreign direct investment and lending.

Rendition of Dubai's China-built California Village

6. Emilian Kavalski: What's Next for the Nearly Decade-Old BRI?

The BRI will soon be marking its ten-year anniversary. Yet, instead of the promised “community of shared destiny,” it has polarized global opinion on China. The COVID-19 pandemic has further reinforced how divisive China’s outreach has become. The article discusses the prospective trajectories of the BRI in this volatile environment.

China encourages its developers to build infrastructure along Arctic routes

7. Sohrab Ahmed Marri: China’s Architectural Cooperation in Pakistan through the Belt and Road Initiative

The Gwadar Port and Free Zone are the core project of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor. Chinese architects negotiated their professional practice to follow the guidelines of the Chinese state authorities as well as the guidelines, expectations, and suggestions of the local state authorities.

The first design proposal of Gwadar Free Zone Business Center Source: Image by Wang Qian

8. Tanveer Ahmed Khan: The Geopolitical Strings of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor

Pakistan has a strategic location in South Asia: it has China to the north, central Asia to the east, and the Arabian Sea to the south. The newly constructed China-Pakistan Economic Corridor is the vital flagship program under the Belt and Road initiative, which is supposed to be a win-win situation for both China and Pakistan.

The Multan-Sukkur Motorway in Pakistan

9. Qinna Shen: The New Silk Road and EU-China Relations through Jiny Lan’s Visual Art

The Chinese-German visual artist Jiny Lan combines themes from western and eastern cultures to illustrate the multifactedness of the New Silk Road and suggests that Chinese authoritarianism presents the biggest challenge to the connectivity between China and Europe.

Alternative Fiction

Arguments and ideas in the present articles represent those of the respective authors and not necessarily GUST University or the editors of this Newsletter.