What is the new Silk Road?

The Beltway and New Silk Road Initiative It is a great China-centric strategy to grow global trade involving dozens of countries and more than € 1 billion in investment. It covers Asia, Europe and Africa, although projects in other regions are also mentioned under its name.

Supporters of this megaproject hail it as a bold plan to meet the need among emerging markets for infrastructure investment, which Beijing has promoted as a way to boost cooperation in the region. But critics warn about the lack of transparency and sustainability of some aspects of the project, including the main ports and high-speed rail networks. There is also concern that Chinese companies are the only beneficiaries of the initiative.

Magnitude and projects

More than 68 countries are involved in the initiative, representing 40% of the world’s GDP and 65% of the world’s population, according to some estimates. Shortly after the announcement of the plan, Beijing established the state Silk Road Fund to encourage greater investment in the countries involved. The United States and Japan, the world’s first and third-largest economies respectively, have chosen not to join.

Some of the most iconic projects include the Khorgos dry port, on the China-Kazakhstan border; the China-Pakistan economic corridor connecting China with the Gwadar seaport in Pakistan; a network of gas and oil pipelines in Central Asia that extends to the Caspian Sea; and a new rail route connecting Yiwu in Zhejiang province with London via Moscow and Berlin.

Map of the New Silk Road

Results so far

Despite the initial shock, construction of some projects has stalled and some countries involved now want to review the deals they originally signed with China, citing unsustainable lending fears. In December 2017, Sri Lanka was forced to lease the port of Hambantota and 60 square kilometers of surrounding land to Beijing for 99 years after Colombo defaulted on the loans used to build it. Malaysia, Pakistan and the Maldives have since asked to renegotiate some of their China-backed projects, wary of mounting debt.

Position of other powers

The United States has been the most critical of the project, highlighting its lack of transparency and stating that it benefits China exclusively. The member states of the European Union have been more reluctant to criticize. However, the EU announced its own «connectivity strategy» to link Europe and Asia last year, with a focus on sustainability and a promise to respect environmental and labor standards.