The Belt and Road Initiative: Formation, Development, and Digression
Yu (Tony) Pan, Chan Kung
As the most crucial grand strategy of China in the 21st century, the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) has reached its sixth year since its revelation in 2013. Although its influence continued to grow, the challenges are also prominent for Beijing. Compounding such challenges is the Chinese opaque policy-making process, which led most researchers to regard 2013 (Xi Jinping's remark in Kazakhstan) as the initiative's starting point. The authors believe that this idea has caused some misunderstandings among the Western observers toward this project in terms of its goal and current circumstances.
In this context, this report was designed to review the entire history of the BRI and provide a plain illustration regarding the policy formation and the actual development of this grand project. As a summary, we found the following conclusion:
The Belt and Road Initiative was launched as a tool to solve the economic problems left from the rapid growth of China from 2000 to 2010.
The Belt and Road Initiative also carried a geopolitical goal, that is, by developing a new trade route through the Eurasia continent, China could have an alternative in its future development without trying to challenge the U.S. supremacy as a sea-power.
However, certain digressions can be observed in the actual development of the BRI. It manifested in two major aspects: First, the imbalance of resources distribution between the Belt and the Road; Second, the BRI has evolved into a model of the mechanical combination of the State-owned Enterprises (SOEs) plus infrastructure building program (S+I).
The Digression caused various problems: First, it failed to achieve its geopolitical goals because the development of the 21st Maritime Silk Road requires a modern naval force and an advanced power-projection capability, which will inevitably generate opposition from Washington. Second, the imbalance of resources distribution impeded Beijing from solving its regional development problems between western and eastern provinces. Third, the S+I model has made the entire BRI increasingly unsustainable. Finally, the S+I model cannot solve the domestic problems left from the Chinese surge in the first decade of the 21st century.
The structural reasons inside the Chinese governments are the most influential factors of the Digression mentioned above. Besides, the nature of the BRI and the interaction among the states along the BRI are also responsible for the Digression.
To be noted, this report does not try to tear the BRI apart. On the contrary, we actually believe that it was incredible for Beijing to finish the institutional building work and to achieve so much in terms of infrastructure in just six years. However, it is also apparent that Beijing must realize the digression and figure out a way to overcome it before they could achieve their original target in the BRI.