At a time when globalisation from the West appears to be in retreat, the Belt and Road Initiative is a potent symbol of the rise of China-based globalisation.

The BRI, part of Xi Jinping’s ‘China dream’ to ‘revitalise the Chinese nation’, is a two-fold project. The Chinese President articulated the Silk Road Economic Belt in the Kazakhstan capital, Astana, in September 2013, then followed it up the next month by announcing the Maritime Silk Road in the parliament of Indonesia.

Collectively, it was known as ‘one belt, one road’ but the OBOR is usually referred to now as BRI. A belt to link the great Eurasian continent with overland railways, highways, pipelines and other infrastructure, and a road to link China with Southeast Asia, South Asia and even Africa through ports and other maritime linkages.

BRI in scale and scope

‘Stretching from the South China Sea across the Eurasian land mass, it is arguably the most ambitious development plan ever conceived,’ a key book-length study observes.

The primary aim is economic. Late in 2014, the Chinese government set up the New Silk Road Fund and Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank to promote infrastructure that would support the trade and other economic linkages it involved.

At around the same time, a railway line linking Yiwu, a county-level city in Zhejiang Province, with the Spanish capital, Madrid, had begun operations.

Another major development is the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor. This includes the link between Kashgar in China’s north-west with the deep-water port of Gwadar in Baluchistan, Pakistan.

The BRI comes at a time when divisions in the world are getting more intense. Diverse nationalisms with the potential for serious conflict are becoming more marked. Economic globalisation and free-trade once seemed so eminently desirable that few dared go against it, yet there is now less consensus about the benefits. It is noted that ‘sizable constituencies have voted in country after country for anti-free-trade policies.’

Please click here to read the full “Xi Jinping’s Belt and Road: A potent symbol of change” article published at the Asian Studies Association of Australia, written by Professor Emeritus Colin Mackerras AO FAHA.