China’s Belt and Road Initiative and the Future of International Development

This project closely examines the emerging agreements and disagreements on the viability and usefulness of China's Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).

About the project

Growing nationalism and protectionist policies pose imminent threats to globalization. Addressing the challenges of climate disruption, international migration, pandemics and violent conflicts require collaboration across national borders. Recent world events, however, have forced many to rethink well-established understandings of globalization and its potential benefits. Some have also begun to question whether the traditionally powerful actors of the Global North will be able to reassert their dominance in this new and fast-changing global landscape.

The Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) focuses on an astonishingly high level of investments in transportation, infrastructure, telecommunications, logistics, energy, and oil and gas. These activities, according to the official policy document, are “a positive endeavour to seek new models of international cooperation and global governance”. The plan is to undertake a series of major investments in roads, bridges, gas pipelines, railways, ports and power plants in over 60 countries along the Silk Road Economic Belt (overland routes from China through Central Asia to Western Europe) and the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road (sea routes from China’s east coast, through South-East Asia and South Asia, up to the East African coast and the Mediterranean). The policy itself is not new, having been proposed by President Xi Jinping in 2013, and entails a spending spree estimated to cost China over $5 trillion. However, many wonder about China’s real intentions. Countries and organizations tend to interpret BRI variously – national vision, Communist party propaganda, quest for world recognition of China’s might, investments in concrete projects to enhance world trade, major shift in development policy, platform for global cooperation.


There is widespread agreement that China has transitioned from being a “rule-taker” to a “rule-maker”. Although China has witnessed significant economic growth since reforms were undertaken over three decades ago, it has until recently adapted consistently with existing international arrangements on trade and governance. However, the introduction of BRI fast-tracked the creation of new multilateral financial institutions (e.g. the New Development Bank, the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank and the Silk Road Fund). As the Economist aptly put it in a 2015 piece, “Without abandoning existing institutions, China is … taking steps to set up new ones over which it has more influence”.

This project closely examines the emerging agreements and disagreements on the viability and usefulness of BRI. How is the BRI different from traditional Chinese aid and investment strategies in Africa? And to what extent does the BRI promote the 2030 Agenda and the Sustainable Development Goals? How does the Chinese government assess the risks associated with lending to countries with unstable political systems? And what are the short-term and long-term implications for borrowers?




The University of Oslo


Published Aug. 8, 2018 5:48 PM - Last modified Nov. 6, 2020 5:17 PM