Chinese President Xi Jinping’s flagship programme for foreign policy coercion- the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) is going to the dogs. Countries across the world are rejecting Xi’s debt-trap and China’s own BRI investments are on the decline owing to Beijing’s domestic woes including an aggravating bad debt crisis. Supposed to be China’s very own Marshall Plan, the BRI is now becoming a huge liability for the paper Dragon running well over a trillion dollars.
Countries across the world have accepted that Xi’s BRI dreams are all but over. However, China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi is now pleading before the world not to dump BRI. Yi claimed that China has increased its investment in the intercontinental connectivity project. Chinese Foreign Minister’s claims are, of course, disputable.
What Wang Yi is trying to do is to woo the world with the bait of higher BRI investments. The Chinese Foreign Minister was rebuffing suggestions that China scaled back BRI investments owing to the Wuhan virus Pandemic. He also claimed that Beijing will make digital cooperation along the BRI route a priority.
Yi claimed that BRI investments are going up even as the world passes through an economic slump. The Chinese Foreign Minister also claimed that Beijing would promote fast tracks to ensure a smoother exchange of personnel and goods with BRI partners. He claimed that China will help BRI partners counteract supply chain disruptions.
The 67-year old CCP leader said, “Many [belt and road] projects have kept running without laying off employees during the Covid-19 pandemic on the premise of strictly controlling the epidemic situation. A number of new projects have been launched.” He added, “Amid the world economic recession, China’s overall investment in [the belt and road] has not dropped. Instead, it has shown a contrary trend of growth.”
Wang Yi’s claims and promises are, of course, false. Let’s talk numbers- this year, the number of new contracts signed by Chinese firms in the first nine months in 61 countries “along the belt and road” has shrunk by 29 per cent compared to last year. The value of contracts signed by Chinese firms has also gone down by 17.5 per cent year on year.
Much to China’s dismay, its enemies have started capitalising on the weakening BRI with their own infrastructure financing plans. India and Japan, for example, are working on a giant trans-Asian corridor that will connect landlocked Bhutan and North-East India, with Dan Nang in Vietnam. The project will connect India, Vietnam, Laos and Myanmar and provide a handy BRI alternative to Mekong countries within the ASEAN.
China itself is losing big in Southeast Asia. Malaysia, for instance, kicked China out of a $10 Billion project only recently. Myanmar too is developing cold feet about the BRI and the region is therefore slipping out of Xi’s hands.
As for South Asia, Bangladesh has virtually dumped the BRI and has evinced interest in joining the India-Myanmar-Thailand Highway project instead. The Maldives has already grown disillusioned with Xi’s debt-trap policy and Sri Lanka has also hinted that it wants to follow an “India first” approach in strategic and security matters.
Colombo does understand that BRI investments are a security concern in New Delhi’s glossary and therefore India’s southern neighbour might as well develop cold feet about Beijing.
Finally, in Africa’s case, India and Russia joined hands earlier this year to develop rail and other infrastructure. Africa itself has shown an unwillingness to repay BRI loans, and the Chinese debt-trap has backfired badly in the African Continent. Beijing has therefore been naturally forced to scale down BRI investments in Africa.
Xi’s Belt and Road crusade is all but over. But his administration doesn’t want to accept the spectacular failure that the BRI is turning out to be. Yi is pleading before the world not to dump the BRI, and Xi’s BRI dreams are therefore coming to an anticlimactic end.