At the second Belt and Road Forum (BRF) in Beijing at the end of April, attended by 150 countries, 37 of whom were represented by their leaders, China addressed many of the criticisms against its Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).
China has had to do battle on two fronts over the BRI, an ambitious global project for connectivity and infrastructure development announced in 2013. The first criticism is that the BRI is China’s master plan to dominate the world. The second, not unrelated, and more empirically demonstrable, is that project terms lead to a debt trap exposing countries to domination by China.
China is fighting hard to push the BRI forward despite evidence of countries caught in the debt trap. In doing this it had until recently taken the usual hard line of ignoring opposition, but during the BRF, there were indications China was more willing to argue and make its case as well as review terms of project implementation.
Before the BRF, China made a diplomatic effort to get the BRI accepted in Europe. There was a limited success as Italy signed on, the first among G-7 countries, but Chinese leader Xi Jinping’s visit to France in March failed to achieve EU endorsement. President Macron invited German Chancellor Merkel and European Commission President Juncker to join him in meeting President Xi to show a largely united European front, even if Italy was a significant economy that had broken ranks. Europe maintained its position that the BRI had not met international norms in its execution.