Confused About China’s Belt and Road Agenda? You’re Not Alone.

A China in Africa Podcast

Thirty-seven foreign heads of state came to Beijing this week to take part in the second Belt and Road summit hosted by Chinese President Xi Jinping. Some leaders, like Kenya’s President Uhuru Kenyatta, came with expectations to sign huge infrastructure loan deals, while others, including Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, asked for debt relief.

But amid all of the deals and big announcements at the summit, the underlying message about what exactly the Belt and Road is and what it stand for is still not clear to a lot of people.

A 2017 assessment by the international law firm Baker McKenzie stated that, “the BRI is better understood as a mission statement rather than a policy document, since it lacks a list of member countries and a precise definition of what a BRI project is.”

Is China’s grand plan for global domination to use debt as a tool of control, as the United States and others contend? Or, is the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) a new global development platform that, as the Chinese government says, is meant to propel its much-heralded “win-win” diplomacy?

Mired by sloppy deal-making, poor planning, and clumsy diplomacy in recent years, the BRI has seemingly lost its focus, and President Xi, no doubt, wants to use the recent summit as a way to get the it back on track.

Erik Myxter-lino, host of the Belt and Road Podcast, is a close observer of BRI politics and has followed this initiative from the beginning, when it was first announced in 2013. He joins Eric and Cobus to discuss why he thinks it’s so difficult for China to explain what BRI is really all about.