As even Chinese President Xi Jinping has realized, the Belt and Road Initiative has to find a new groove.

The BRI has come under harsh criticism over the past year, amid the heat of national election campaigns in countries such as Malaysia and the Maldives and accusations of China pushing states into excessive borrowing. Xi moved to address these concerns with his speech to leaders at the Belt and Road Forum in Beijing in late April, pledging a new emphasis on transparency and the sustainability of both financing and projects, as well as “zero tolerance for corruption.”

But the BRI’s fundamental problem is its bilateral nature: the initiative is in practice a set of memorandums of understanding between China and other individual countries, many of which are much smaller. BRI countries do not have a channel to interact with one another within the initiative and also lack influence over its development and future. The entire program centers on China.

What is needed, if China is really serious about improving the BRI, is to convert it into a proper international organization — with China as just one of many members, even if the leading one, rather than the initiative’s sole authority.


This article has been published by Andreea Brînză, Vice President of RISAP, in the Nikkei Asian Review. You can read the full article on the Nikkei website.