China Seeks a New Narrative for Its Belt and Road Initiative

China Seeks a New Narrative for Its Belt and Road Initiative
Workers install flowers on a decoration promoting the upcoming Belt and Road Forum in Beijing, April 23, 2019 (AP photo by Andy Wong).

Editor’s Note: Every Wednesday, WPR Newsletter and Engagement Editor Benjamin Wilhelm curates the week’s top news and expert analysis on China.

China is expected to promote a rebooted version of its signature Belt and Road Initiative when world leaders from 37 countries gather in Beijing this week for the second Belt and Road Forum. Skepticism has been mounting for years over China’s expansive infrastructure investment strategy, and Beijing is looking for an opportunity to reset the narrative at this week’s summit, which begins Thursday and concludes Saturday.

Critics have long viewed the Belt and Road Initiative as a bid to gain leverage and spread Chinese influence abroad. As Jonathan W. Rosen wrote last year in an in-depth report for WPR on Chinese investment in Zambia, “Western officials have increasingly accused the Chinese government of setting ‘debt traps’: financing projects with high risks of default, with the ultimate aim of compelling states to relinquish strategic resources.” That has led some to denounce the project as “debt-trap diplomacy,” while others have argued that a better description would be “crony diplomacy.

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