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Demystifying Belt and Road

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Demystifying Belt and Road

The Struggle to Define China’s “Project of the Century”

Foreign Affairs,

5 min read
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China must define the scope of its Belt and Road Initiative to address international pushback against the megaproject. 

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In 2013, Chinese President Xi Jinping announced the launch of the largest infrastructure and investment initiative the world has ever seen. Known as the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), the project seeks to create a network of railways, highways and energy pipelines stretching from East Asia to Europe. Yet China has so far remained vague about the project’s exact scope and objectives, which has resulted in many misconceptions, local pushback and negative press. In Foreign Affairs, Chinese scholar Yuen Yuen Ang unpacks some of the confusion around the project, while making a series of recommendations for how Beijing can demystify BRI and clarify its objectives.


When China rolled out its ambitious Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) in 2013, it called it “the project of the century.” The giant infrastructure investment initiative spans 65 countries representing two-thirds of the global population. Countries directly affected by the initiative, as well as the United States, have accused Beijing of using BRI as a cover to extend its sphere of influence, including by offering loans that countries will find impossible to repay.

Some of the international pushback against BRI, however, builds on a faulty understanding of the initiative’s content and scope. A case in point is a series of large-scale, Chinese-funded infrastructure projects in Sihanoukville, Cambodia. Local residents assumed...

About the Author

Yuen Yuen Ang is Associate Professor of Political Science at the University of Michigan and the author of How China Escaped the Poverty Trap.

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