As the Third Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation (BRF) is set to take place in Beijing from October 17 to 18, as reported by People's Daily Online. there are growing concerns about the implications of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) on the global stage.
The BRI initiated ten years ago, is causing more harm than good. While the Chinese government touts it as a transformative global development strategy, it is primarily a means of expanding China's economic and political influence at the expense of participating countries.
One of the major concerns is the heavy debt burdens that many BRI partner countries have accumulated. As China provides loans and investments for infrastructure projects, these countries often find themselves trapped in a cycle of debt dependency. There have been debt-trap diplomacy where China gains significant leverage over these nations due to their inability to repay their loans.
According to Bitter Winter report, China’s Belt and Road Initiative has ensured a significant majority of nations are loath to criticize the Chinese state, loaded down as they are with debt to the superpower. The UK’s “Guardian” newspaper reported in March 2023 that China had spent $240 billion on Belt and Road bailouts from 2008-2021.
According to SSRI, Sri Lanka as a result of the BRI projects is sacrificing a level of autonomy around how to manage these infrastructures. With a significant portion of investment in BRI coming from Chinese public entities, there is a concern about Sri Lanka’s growing debt burden and loss of sovereignty. BRI projects in Sri Lanka show lack of transparency and corruption. There are some environmental impacts as well.
Environmental concerns have also been a topic of contention. BRI projects, which often involve massive infrastructure development, have been causing significant environmental damage. The Initiative's focus on quick economic gains can come at the expense of environmental sustainability, leading to deforestation, habitat destruction, and increased carbon emissions.
The BRI will serve as a mechanism for weaponizing the global supply chain and gaining technology dominance. It will position China in the center of Eurasian trade markets, leading to unequal market leverages in the region and driving other regional countries to submit to China’s interests.
Additional impacts for accepting China’s unregulated loans are the erosion of national sovereignty, corruption on both ends of the loan, and a general inability to resist CCP political pressure that may not coincide with individual state interests. As examples, Kazakhstan, Mongolia, Malaysia, Indonesia, Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos have adjusted their domestic national development strategies to meet mandated requirements of certain BRI details. By accepting loans beyond the government’s capacity to repay, China inevitably restricts sovereign governments’ ability to maneuver while locking successive governments to the same financial obligations
Furthermore, concerns about transparency and corruption have dogged many BRI projects. This projects lack proper oversight and accountability, leading to corruption and embezzlement in partner countries.
Human rights issues have also been a source of controversy. BRI projects for displacing local populations, violating labor rights, and contributing to authoritarian regimes. The Chinese government should do more to ensure that these projects respect human rights and adhere to international labor standards.
Despite these concerns, the Chinese government remains committed to the Belt and Road Initiative and continues to emphasize the positive impact it has on global development and cooperation.
As the Third Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation gets underway in Beijing, it is evident that the Initiative remains a subject of significant debate and controversy. While proponents highlight the economic benefits, we are calling for greater transparency, environmental responsibility, and respect for human rights in BRI projects. The discussions at this forum will undoubtedly shed light on the future direction of the Initiative and its impact on the world.
Edited and collated by Team TRC