China’s well-publicized Belt and Road Initiative to invest in infrastructure projects in other countries has helped it expand its political influence around the world. But a newer, lesser-known development program has launched with apparently similar objectives.
There is no question that China is a major player in world affairs, representing the second-largest economy in the world after the United States. In his role as a world leader, China’s President Xi Jinping periodically announces global projects designed to promote China on the world stage and to demonstrate global influence.
A year after assuming power in 2012 he announced the creation of the so-called Belt and Road Initiative, a massive infrastructure project designed to increase investment and promote economic development in many of the world’s poor nations.
The resulting bridges, ports and roads built in developing nations throughout the world have cost hundreds of billions of dollars, and questions have been raised about whether they are harming nature. By accepting Chinese loans with stringent conditions, developing nations with weak bargaining power and limited options for raising funds externally carried a large part of these costs.
In addition to this infrastructure objective, the Belt and Road Initiative was a push for China to gain more economic and political power. Many developing nations that took loans from China are finding it difficult to repay them while fighting COVID-19 and dealing with faltering economies.