Why China's recalibrating the Belt and Road Initiative
Beijing's goal—to achieve global dominance through its trade and investments—hasn’t changed. It’s just changed tactics.
By Vivek Y. Kelkar
In mid-January, China’s new foreign minister, Qin Gang, visited Angola, Benin, Ethiopia, Egypt, and Gabon. Some of these countries, like Angola, host Belt-and-Road investments; others are targets for investment. All are strategically significant: Angola, for example, is blessed with lucrative ores for semiconductors and batteries, whereas Egypt enjoys a highly strategic location.
In Ethiopia, the stakes are high. More than 400 Chinese companies, most focused on energy and infrastructure, are in Ethiopia. Ethiopia’s debt to China is reckoned to be about US$14 billion. It can’t be repaid. It must be restructured. Ominously, an accord signed in March 2021 gave China policing and law enforcement rights in Ethiopia, purportedly to protect China’s infrastructure and personnel. Ethiopians have noted, some with dismay, how much power this agreement gives Beijing.
China’s investments in Ethiopia are characteristic of its investments in Africa, and indeed of their Belt-and-Road investments around the world. Since 2013, BRI investments have mostly been in infrastructure and energy; typically, they’re projects with a long gestation, and often, low single-digit returns. China carefully chose these targets, focusing on Africa and the geopolitically significant nation-states of Asia, like Pakistan and Sri Lanka. Beijing believed these investments were critical to its quest to become a global power.
Beijing views the world order as a system with multiple nodes—nation-states, trade centers, companies, and institutional and non-institutional actors. To influence and mold global institutions and networks, China uses infrastructure development to shape the nodes of the system. This, in Beijing’s view, is the key to combatting the United States’ dominance of the global order.
Keep reading with a 7-day free trial
Subscribe to The Cosmopolitan Globalist to keep reading this post and get 7 days of free access to the full post archives.