What does the COVID-19 pandemic mean for China’s Belt and Road Initiative? The Belt and Road Initiative is one of the biggest development projects in history, but the pandemic has had a huge impact on the economies of the countries involved in it.
Pronouncements that the Belt and Road Initiative is failing are premature, argues Tom Miller, author of China’s Asian Dream and Senior Asia Analyst at Gavekal Research. He is well-versed in the problems facing the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) and predicted many of them. In his 2017 book China’s Asian Dream, he warned that China’s preference for cultivating close relationships with individual leaders could be a long-term risk for BRI. Eighteen months on, this looks prescient. New governments have won power in Malaysia, Pakistan and the Maldives, and renegotiating deals signed by their predecessors are high on the agendas.
What a difference a year makes. Last summer, there was a sense of unstoppable momentum behind the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), China’s trillion-dollar plan to build a network of infrastructure connecting Africa, Asia and Europe. When China hosted its 2017 Belt and Road Forum, 29 heads of state and delegations from another 100 countries traveled to Beijing, hoping to cash in on what President Xi Jinping described as the “project of the century.” This year the landscape, at least from the media’s perspective, looks dramatically different as even China’s closest partners make more cautious noises about the BRI.