15 May 2017

** How will the Belt and Road Initiative advance China’s interests?

On May 14-15, Chinese President Xi Jinping will host the leaders of 28 countries and representatives from several other countries at the Belt and Road Forum in Beijing. Announced in 2013, the Belt and Road Initiative (also known as One Belt, One Road or OBOR) aims to strengthen China’s connectivity with the world. It combines new and old projects, covers an expansive geographic scope, and includes efforts to strengthen hard infrastructure, soft infrastructure, and cultural ties. At present, the plan extends to 65 countries with a combined Gross Domestic Product of $23 trillion and includes some 4.4 billion people.

The below map traces China’s infrastructure projects. It covers all Eurasian states and other countries that are attending the Belt and Road Forum. The shading of each country is determined by the intensity of its bilateral trade with China. Secondary filters – such as Chinese investment and the Human Development Index – can be selected from the scrollable panel to the right of the map. Infrastructure data provided by Reconnecting Asia.

Supporting a diverse array of infrastructure projects throughout Eurasia and beyond could serve to strengthen China’s economic and security interests. China’s economic prowess has been the primary driver of its growing international clout. If China is successful at leveraging its economic resources towards supporting foreign infrastructure projects, China could stand to make significant political gains. For example, Chinese influence over strategic infrastructure, such as pipelines and ports, could serve a dual purpose of providing a means for securing China’s interests abroad and guaranteeing reliable transportation of critical resources to China.

It is too early to tell whether China will be able to fully realize its goal of improving cooperation and connectivity across Eurasia. Most of the Belt and Road Initiative remains more vision than reality, and many of the existing infrastructure projects are only loosely tied together. Many countries welcome Beijing’s largesse, but also fear domination of their economies by China. To learn more about what the Belt and Road Initiative means for China’s relations with its neighbors, check out our podcast with Professor David M. Lampton.

The new connections of the Belt and Road Initiative could reconfigure relationships, reroute flows of goods and people, and shift power within and between states. The projects and investments of the initiative, however, face obstacles as vast and diverse as the region itself.

Interested in learning more about new connections in Asia? Reconnecting Asia is mapping new linkages - roads, railways, and other infrastructure - that are reshaping economic and geopolitical realities across the continent.

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