The fifth anniversary of China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) was recently marked in Beijing. This 900 billion U.S. dollar transcontinental development project was launched in the autumn of 2013 when president Xi Jinping proposed the building of the Silk Road Economic Belt and the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road – the two main segments of the ambitious economic cooperation campaign. The first one refers to a half-dozen land corridors connecting China with Southeast Asia, South Asia, West Asia, the Middle East and, from there, Europe. The second one is a sea route linking Asia, Africa and Europe. This “project of a century”, as Xi Jinping calls it, is meant to improve connectivity between Asia, Europe and Africa, and consequently to increase trade and development. Undoubtedly, BRI is also a geopolitical plan to boost China’s regional power.
By now, more than 100 countries and international organizations have signed BRI cooperation agreements with China. So far, given that most of investment projects are associated with infrastructure development, BRI has mainly benefited China’s state-owned enterprises. Some regions of the vast investment landscape are doing better than others. Due to proximity to China and the demand for better infrastructure, Southeast Asia remains a high priority for China’s SOEs. Other important beneficiaries are India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Myanmar, partly due to the size of their populations and growing market potential.
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