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  • Introduction
  • Jessica Keough (bio)

In 2013, China's president Xi Jinping announced an initiative that would set the course for much of China's foreign policy toward its Eurasian neighbors. Consisting of two parts—an overland "belt" connecting China with Central Asia, Russia, South Asia, and Europe and a maritime "road" linking Chinese ports with those in Southeast Asia, South Asia, Africa, the Middle East, and Europe—the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) envisions a vast network of railways, highways, ports, pipelines, and communication infrastructure spanning the Eurasian continent and facilitating trade, investment, and people-to-people exchange (see Figure 1). In 2015, Beijing announced a plan to develop six economic corridors to advance this initiative (see Figure 2). China's leadership has rallied behind BRI, pledging substantial investment, creating new financial institutions such as the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank and the New Silk Road Fund, and making diplomatic commitments to countries along the proposed routes. To many observers, BRI appears to be an outline of China's ambitious new grand strategy, 1 but what do states in the region think of this initiative?

The seven contributors to this Asia Policy roundtable seek to answer this question by examining how Asian states along this new Silk Road view BRI and its potential implications. Michael Clarke begins the roundtable with an essay that analyzes China's motivations and objectives. He concludes that BRI is motivated by Beijing's desire to resolve long-term domestic, economic, and geopolitical challenges by strengthening states in China's frontier regions, exporting Chinese capital and labor, and establishing an alternative to the current international order. BRI integrates these objectives into a strategy that furthers China's goal of returning to great-power status without provoking strong counterreactions.

Andrew Small seeks to understand Pakistan's role in BRI through an examination of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). Despite Pakistan and China's long history of an "all-weather friendship," previous joint infrastructure and economic projects have generally failed to deliver [End Page 66]

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Figure 1.

China's Silk Road Economic Belt and 21st Century Maritime Silk Road

Source: "West China Seeks Fortune on Modern Silk Road," Xinhua, May 15, 2016 ≈ Originally published in Chinese in Xinhua, 2014.

Reprinted with minor changes from Nadège Rolland, China's Eurasia Century? Political and Strategic Implications of the Belt and Road Initiative (Seattle: National Bureau of Asian Research, 2017), 49.

[End Page 67]

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Figure 2.

The Six Economic Corridors of the Belt and Road Initiative

Source: Hong Kong Trade Development Council Head Office, "The Belt and Road Initiative," January 21, 2016 ≈

Reprinted from Rolland, China's Eurasia Century? 73.

[End Page 68] on their rhetoric. Although both sides clearly stand to gain from CPEC and some progress has been made, long-standing challenges in Pakistan provide reason for skepticism that the project will in fact meet Beijing's goals.

While not on board with BRI, India is closely watching the initiative, particularly CPEC. Harsh Pant and Ritika Passi argue in their essay that pressure is mounting on New Delhi to decide whether to remain on the sidelines. India is wary of the security implications of BRI, particularly for the contested area of Pakistan-occupied Kashmir and for Indian Ocean ports and sea lanes; however, China's infrastructure development projects could be a boon that increases the region's economic interdependence and gives India leverage to shape the initiative from within. India thus faces challenging decisions as BRI unfolds.

Russia, by contrast, has moved from caution to an embrace of BRI, at least for now. The initiative will expand China's presence not only in Central Asia, Russia's traditional sphere of influence, but also further westward in Turkey, the Middle East, and Europe. While Moscow recognizes this dilution of its own influence, Sebastien Peyrouse argues that Russia's economic crisis and the effects of Western sanctions have left...


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