It’s championed by pliant academics in state newspapers, danced about by ethnically diverse children in propaganda videos, and financed by fretful bankers with little hope of recouping their investments: China’s Belt and Road Initiative is a leviathan transnational infrastructure scheme that’s hard to ignore.
On Sunday, a two-day summit on President Xi Jinping’s keynote project opens in Beijing, attended by 1,500 delegates from 130 countries, including 29 heads of state and government. Russian President Vladimir Putin and Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte are the star names on show, and even North Korea is sending a delegation. (Though E.U. leaders are in relatively short supply.)
In short, the Belt and Road Initiative (otherwise known as One Belt One Road, or OBOR) is a revival of the iconic land and maritime Silk Road via a trade and infrastructure network spanning East Asia to Western Europe and South through Africa. It consists of roads, railways, ports, pipelines and everything in between across a region with a $26 trillion infrastructure deficit, according to some estimates.
The basic idea is to make it easier for China to trade with the world, at a time when its economy is slowing, with the happy corollary that the world will find it easier to trade with each other. But OBOR remains a nebulous, confusing concept, which offers enormous benefits but only if significant challenges can be negotiated.
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