China is promoting its 10-year-old Belt and Road Initiative as an alternative economic development model, releasing a government study that praises the initiative while ignoring concerns that it has burdened poor countries with excessive debt.

The program, championed by Chinese President Xi Jinping, has funded the building of ports, power plants, railroads, and other infrastructure projects all over the world.

“Over the past ten years, the fruitful outcomes of building the Belt and Road together, as well as the growing circle of friends, have fully demonstrated that the Belt and Road does not engage in a closed and narrow circle, transcends the old mindset of geopolitical games, and creates a new paradigm of international cooperation,” Li Kexin, the Foreign Ministry’s director for international economic affairs, told reporters in Beijing.

Since its inception, the Belt and Road Initiative, or BRI, has backed projects primarily undertaken by Chinese construction firms and funded by loans from Chinese development banks.

Its avowed purpose is to improve China’s transportation linkages with the rest of the world in order to enhance trade and investment. Analysts commend the program with delivering much needed funds to poor countries, but they believe it came at a cost.

According to an analysis released Monday by Boston University’s Global Development Policy Center, the BRI has made over $330 billion in loans to developing-country governments through 2021, lending more than the World Bank in some years.

“On some level, China has added a World Bank to the developing world, which is no small feat and much appreciated by developing countries,” said Kevin Gallagher, director of the Center for Global Development.

However, according to the same survey, many recipients of Chinese loans are now suffering with their overall obligations. Furthermore, Chinese-funded power plants release around 245 million tons of carbon dioxide each year, contributing to greenhouse gas emissions.

According to the Chinese government study, railway projects include a 590-kilometer (370-mile) link from Nairobi to the port of Mombasa in Kenya, as well as the launch of a 1,035-kilometer (643-mile) railway from Kunming in southern China to the capital of Laos in 2021.

According to Gallagher, China stepped in to fill a void left by the World Bank and other lenders’ withdrawal from infrastructure projects due to criticism of their environmental damage and displacement of local residents.

However, China has received similar criticism and is now refocusing its initiative to include smaller projects and renewable energy.

“We no longer have these massive multimillion-dollar infrastructure projects, but rather smaller projects, the official term is’small and beautiful,'” said Christoph Nedopil, head of Griffith University’s Asia Institute.

Solar and wind farms, companies producing electric car parts and batteries, and mining for lithium and other minerals required for electric vehicles are among them, according to Nedopil.

China’s development funding has declined in recent years, in part because China has learned from numerous nations’ debt crises, but also because it has less money to lend as its own economy slows.

During the introduction of the BRI report, Cong Liang, a senior official with China’s major planning agency, stated that the government would adhere to “the principle of sustainable debt” and work with indebted countries toward “a sustainable and risk-controllable investment and financing system.”

The Belt and Road Initiative is part of China’s efforts to increase its worldwide standing and counter US criticism of Communist Party control and Beijing’s human rights record.

China’s officials accuse the United States of attempting to impose its beliefs on everyone else, including China. They claim that their system takes a different approach, accepting other countries as they are.

In contrast, a delegation of US senators visiting China this week stated to Chinese authorities that they will promote “freedom and democratic principles, as well as vigorously defend our values.”

According to the BRI report, the program transcends ideological and social system divides, providing an alternative to the current course of globalization, which Beijing claims has only expanded the gap between affluent and poor countries.

“It is no longer acceptable that only a few countries dominate world economic development, control economic rules, and enjoy development fruits,” the authors of the report concluded.

China is set to convene a symposium next week to highlight the BRI program.


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