China Tries to Calm Jitters About the “Belt and Road” Initiative
Chinese engineers are drilling their way through the green hills of Laos, clearing a path for a railway that one day may traverse South-East Asia. Each time they complete a tunnel—at least three times in the past month—they hold a brief ceremony, waving Chinese flags for the cameras. They are celebrating not just their engineering success but also the evidence before them that the Belt and Road Initiative (bri), China’s global infrastructure-building scheme, is making progress. The full railway is a long way off. Work has barely begun in Thailand, the next link. But the section in Laos should be in use by 2021.
It will be a test of what many see as a big economic danger of the bri: that it will saddle poor countries with unmanageable debts. China insists that its tens of billions of dollars in loans and investments are fostering global prosperity—a message that it is sure to repeat to foreign leaders attending the second Belt and Road Forum, which takes place from April 25th to 27th in Beijing (pictured is a floral display marking the event). But worries about the cost of the bri, a project closely linked with President Xi Jinping’s foreign policy, have become widespread. Malaysia, Pakistan and Sierra Leone are among a growing list of countries that have delayed or scrapped China-led projects.
Photo courtesy of jbdodane.