Over the past five years, China has invested a significant amount of diplomatic capital in launching and promoting its Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). The Chinese leadership and state-owned media have projected the BRI as a brand-new Chinese initiative to foster trans-continental physical, economic and digital connectivity. Since its launch in 2013, however, the initiative has taken complex twists and turns, generating a mix of optimism and apprehension around the world. With Italy, a G7 country, endorsing the BRI, the debate about the initiative’s promises and pitfalls has only intensified. While the United States, Japan, Australia and India often signal that the BRI is a strategic initiative with revisionist motives, others, such as Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Cambodia, tend to perceive it differently. The second BRF, held in the last week of April, ought to be seen in that light.

Key points:

  • China has consolidated its diplomatic and economic profile in countries across Asia, Africa and Europe through effective use of its Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).
  • The Belt and Road Forum (BRF) has served as a platform for China to project the credibility of the BRI; the rise in the number of participant countries across the world testifies to that.
  • While the number of countries signing up to the BRI has increased, criticism of and scepticism towards the project’s motivations are also growing.
  • After five years and two BRFs, Beijing is yet to distinguish between pre-existing projects that have been brought under the aegis of the BRI and new ventures.
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