Evaluating a Decade of Transformation Challenges and Prospects of the Belt and Road Initiative

The extensive efforts and great endeavors by the Chinese government put China in a leadership position and establish new global standards.

Chinese President Xi Jinping announced the launch of the Belt and Road Initiative in 2013, a decade ago. This initiative relies on an extensive infrastructure network, aiming to connect China with Western Europe through a broad range of land, sea, and rail routes. The Belt and Road Initiative sought to enhance economic cooperation, spread prosperity, and encourage sustainable development among the participating countries. Fast-forwarding to the present day, the recent Belt and Road Initiative summit held in China serves as a cornerstone upon which to build. This summit took place on the occasion of the initiative’s tenth anniversary and provided a unique opportunity for leaders to reflect on the achievements and obstacles encountered since its announcement. Given the changing global landscape, it is of utmost importance to evaluate the transformations the Belt and Road Initiative has undergone over the past decade. This article aims to provide a comprehensive examination of these transformations, shedding light on the challenges, adaptations, and future prospects of the Belt and Road Initiative.

Objectives of the Belt and Road Initiative

When Chinese President Xi Jinping first launched the Belt and Road Initiative a decade ago, the Chinese government set ambitious goals. The overarching objective was to establish a comprehensive infrastructure network that would facilitate unprecedented levels of trade and investment, thereby spreading prosperity among participating countries. In addition to its economic aspirations, the Belt and Road Initiative was described as a means to promote sustainable development. China presented it as a model for mutual benefit, both for China and participating countries, where countries along the initiative’s routes would experience a boom in infrastructure development, including investments in roads, ports, and railways. This, in turn, is expected to stimulate economic growth, employment, and technological advancement. Furthermore, the Belt and Road Initiative is anticipated to significantly contribute to achieving the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals by promoting green technology and practices.

Participation of Global South Countries in the Initiative

The Belt and Road Initiative has played an effective role in providing unprecedented opportunities for infrastructure development and economic growth in developing countries. By fostering cooperation, China has helped bridge the significant infrastructure gap in these regions. For instance, in Africa, projects like the Mombasa-Nairobi railway line in Kenya have improved transportation and also created thousands of job opportunities, thereby boosting the local economy. Similarly, in Latin America, the railway line between Brazil and Peru aims to facilitate more efficient trade routes in that region and consequently link it to China. These projects are more than mere construction; they are often accompanied by skill-enhancement programs, technological upgrades, and sustainable practices that empower the local workforce and contribute to long-term development. As a result, the Belt and Road Initiative has emerged as a catalyst for progress in developing countries, enabling nations to improve their global competitiveness and enhance the well-being of their citizens.

Adapting to Global Challenges

Initially conceived as a large-scale infrastructure project, the Belt and Road Initiative has witnessed a significant shift in focus towards green projects and high-technology endeavors. Recognizing global imperatives such as sustainability and environmental conservation, the Chinese government is now steering the initiative to be more in alignment with these objectives. For example, there is an increasing emphasis on renewable energy projects like solar farms and wind energy, which aim to reduce the carbon emissions from developmental activities. Moreover, the initiative is entering domains of digital financing and e-commerce platforms, positioning itself at the forefront of technological innovation integral to modern economies.

The extensive efforts and great endeavors by the Chinese government put China in a leadership position and establish new global standards in areas such as digital trade and sustainable development. These significant undertakings aim to achieve a more balanced and multipolar global system, offering greater agency to developing countries in economic and developmental participation. Consequently, the Belt and Road Initiative is becoming more congruent with contemporary challenges, as China offers through this initiative a more nuanced approach to development that integrates economic, technological, and environmental considerations.

Cases of Success

The Belt and Road Initiative has proven its efficacy in enhancing development in participating countries, with several projects emerging as notable successes. One such endeavor is the Gwadar Port in Pakistan, which serves as a key logistical hub connecting China with the Arabian Sea. The port has bolstered Pakistan’s maritime infrastructure and has the potential to transform Pakistan into a trade bridge between China, the Middle East, and Africa. According to Pakistan’s economic survey, the project has created thousands of job opportunities and significantly increased the Gross Domestic Product (GDP).

Another exemplary project is the railway line between Mombasa and Nairobi in Kenya. The railway has reduced travel time between Mombasa and Nairobi from over ten hours to approximately four and a half hours, significantly boosting trade and tourism. According to a study conducted by the University of Nairobi, the railway has served more than two million passengers and transported over 600,000 containers of goods since its inception, thus playing a pivotal role in Kenya’s economic development.

Both projects underscore the considerable positive impact that the Belt and Road Initiative has had on the economies and infrastructures of the participating countries. These case studies serve as tangible examples that validate the overarching goals of the initiative, which are to promote development and regional connectivity.

Belt and Road Initiative: A Bright Spot in Modern Chinese History

The Belt and Road Initiative remains a global endeavor for positive change towards betterment through China’s strategy of mutual gain. Its shift towards sustainability and high-technology projects is an adaptive strategy responsive to global challenges and criticisms. Although the Belt and Road Initiative has faced skepticism and some setbacks, its success stories offer compelling evidence of its ability to boost economic development and regional integration. The Chinese government’s celebration of the initiative’s tenth anniversary, attended by numerous leaders and heads of state, is further compelling evidence of China’s growing success and its role in shaping a multipolar world.

Mohamad Zreik
Mohamad Zreik
Mohamad Zreik is an independent researcher, doctor of international relations. His areas of research interests are related to the Foreign Policy of China, Belt and Road Initiative, Middle Eastern Studies, China-Arab relations, East Asian Affairs, Geopolitics of Eurasia, and Political Economy. Mohamad has many studies and articles published in high ranked journals and well-known international newspapers. His writings have been translated into many languages, including French, Arabic, Spanish, German, Albanian, Russian, Bosnian, Bulgarian, etc.