COUNTRIES ALONG THE BELT AND ROAD- WHAT DOES IT ALL MEAN?

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The Development Reimagined Infographic series explores which countries are and aren’t signed up to China’s flagship Belt and Road Initiative

Announced in 2013 by Chinese President Xi Jinping, The belt and road countries has promised new business and development opportunities around the world, connecting regions of Asia, Europe and Africa in large investment and turnkey projects. But BRI isn’t solely about infrastructure- people to people bonds, “win-win cooperation” and cultural exchange are key elements of this initiative that is aiming to transform development across Asia and beyond.

The World Bank predicts that, if the proposed BRI projects are completed, they have the potential to increase trade along the 6 economic corridors, and maritime ‘roads’ by between 2.7% and 9.7%, increase income by up to 3.4% and help 7.6 million people lift themselves from extreme poverty[1].

But of course, the impacts in each participant country are widely varied, with equal parts optimism and scepticism for the future of BRI from multiple different stakeholders… In addition, the lack of transparency around what is “in” or “out” of the BRI makes it difficult to really assess its impact with any real credibility.

Therefore, as part of the Development Reimagined infographic series, we have produced a series of maps, outlining which countries are signed up to BRI “Memorandums of Understanding (MOUs)* to get some simple but clear insights into what this means for each region.

At a global level,the BRI spans around 140 countries, including China, involving two thirds of the world’s population[2]. Specifically, this amounts to 61.5% of the Caribbean66.7% of South America42.6% of Central America100% of the Middle East97% of Asia (excluding the Middle East), 57.1% of Oceania,72.7% of Africa56.8% of Europe[3].

It is interesting to note that two of the BRIC countries – India and Brazil – are not signed up, and of the G7 only one country – Italy – is signed up. This could indicate a wariness towards China’s increasing global presence and it remains to be seen whether more G7 and the remaining BRIC countries will join China’s flagship initiative.

Overall, a majority of the BRI’s investment is directed towards transport and logistics – railways and roads, which are connecting regions across the world and facilitating international trade. A study of 88 BRI countries in 2018 estimated that there is US$330bn of tracked projects in this sector, and US$266bn in the energy and utilities sector[4]. However, it is important to note that some of these projects were initiated prior to the signing of BRI MOUs, so these are likely to be overestimates.

In Southeast Asia, the countries with the largest concentration of BRI investment are Indonesia, Cambodia and Vietnam[5]. The sectors which are benefitting from this investment are predominantly railway and road construction, as well as power projects. However, BRI in ASEAN countries (Association of Southeast Asian Nations), has led to an increase of Chinese imports into South East Asia, particularly construction services and related financial services, which risk tilting the balance of trade significantly in Chinas favour. The key to retaining a balance of trade, which benefits both China and ASEAN countries, is promoting investments that promote value-added industry in these areas to boost the exports of the recipient country.

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