In 2013, Xi Jinping, the President of China, revealed plans of vast trade and infrastructure project which would traverse three continents, during state visits to Kazakhstan and Indonesia, much to the chagrin of Japan and the United States. The project was initially christened One Belt, One Road, but was later renamed to the belt and road progress. It was based on the Silk Road, a historical trade route that was named after the main commodity traded during those times — Chinese Silk. The project had two divisions — a land route and a maritime route. But as of 2020, the pieces of this dream are falling fast, as more participating countries show scepticism. Here are some reasons why:
The COVID-19 pandemic shut international borders between countries, ceasing any existing work of the BRI in Pakistan, Nigeria, etc. The virus has caused the deaths of millions across the world, and there is no sign of the pandemic receding soon. Social stigma against China for being the origin of the virus is also prevalent in many countries. China decided to propagate BRI as a facet for public health infrastructure, but poor handling of the pandemic at its early stage by China itself has painted a negative picture. The pandemic has severely slowed down construction and has damaged the image of the BRI.
Persecution of Uighur Muslims
A sizeable portion of the BRI cuts across countries with a Muslim majority and the brutal treatment of Uighur Muslims in China has laid down a negative reputation. Although their outcry about this has been minimal, these countries would be wary and cautious of China, and this would affect the BRI as well.
China’s Aggressive Behaviour
The border clash between India and China, new claims on Bhutan’s territory and increased activity in the South China Sea have sent a clear message to the world of China’s aggression. Countries that are stuck in China’s debt trap are now regretting their decision to welcome China into the countries. This behaviour also is playing out in the digital world. The BRI’s sister project, the Digital Silk Route has lost many key supporters due to security concerns with Huawei and other China-based software companies. Indonesia, Bangladesh, Malaysia, Myanmar, and Sri Lanka are now showing implicit criticisms against China. Future BRI projects in these countries might be cancelled or severely downplayed.
Worsening US-China Ties
Since 2019, the United States had been very suspicious of China’s activities. On the 21st of July, the Chinese consulate in Houston was ordered to close and a few days later, China asked the US consulate in Chengdu to close in retaliation. Many countries which have been historically aligned to the United States but were experimenting with China, like Australia, Singapore and South Korea are abandoning most negotiations with China. Ongoing projects in South Korea and Singapore are currently halted and work may not resume until the pandemic ends and the tense atmosphere cools down.
China’s Economic Status
China’s retail sales decreased 1.8% this year, with a 2.8% fall in May 2020, according to Reuters. The agency also added that fixed asset investments had also declined 3.1%, indicating growing distrust of China by foreign investors. Compared to other countries, this decline isn’t too steep, but it might set the precedent for the coming months. Funding for ongoing projects has already been reduced. With the US being the top importer of China’s products and President Donald Trump stating that the US will drastically reduce imports from China in the coming years, China’s economy could face a huge problem. Adding to China’s woes is India, one of the world’s biggest markets, as continues to increase tariffs on Chinese products and ban Chinese apps. Therefore, if the Chinese economy declines, the BRI would only be a distant dream.