Beijing Hosts World Leaders at Belt and Road 10-Year Anniversary Forum

Beijing Hosts World Leaders at Belt and Road 10-Year Anniversary Forum
World leaders pose for a group shot at the Third Belt and Road Initiative forum (Photo: Kremlin)

The Lede: On Tuesday and Wednesday, world leaders gathered in Beijing for the latest Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) forum, which commemorated the 10 year anniversary of Chinese President Xi Jinping’s global infrastructure development strategy as the country increasingly courts favor among Global South nations as an alternative partner to the U.S. and the West.

What We Know:

  • Xi emphasized the most recent focus of the BRI on cooperation in green infrastructure, energy, and transportation as well as artificial intelligence governance. He also pushed back against de-coupling and de-risking calls from the West in a jab at advanced chip restrictions. Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi told reporters that $97.2 billion worth of business contracts had been signed at the forum.
  • Russian President Vladimir Putin arrived on Tuesday morning where he and Xi showcased the "no-limits" partnership between the countries amid the ongoing conflict in Ukraine. Xi also emphasized the pending completion of the China-Mongolia-Russia natural gas pipeline project. 
  • Kenyan president William Ruto sought additional loans for stalled projects on top of the country’s high public debt as well as an easing of the repayment of a Chinese loan for a railway project that has come short of expectations. Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orbán and Serbian president Aleksandar Vučić were among the only European leaders in attendance. The Taliban government of Afghanistan was also in attendance as China has been fostering ties with the country following the U.S. withdrawal. . 
  • The Chinese Foreign Ministry said that representatives from more than 130 countries as well as many international organizations were in attendance at this forum. The event was attended by only about a dozen heads of state after more than 35 attended the last BRI gathering in 2019.

The Background: Launched in 2013 by the Chinese president, the BRI has built power plants, roads, railroads and ports around the world and expanded China’s relations with countries in Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Middle East. It has also been controversial due to debt issues, environmental concerns, corruption scandals, labor violations, and political influence. China's State Council recently said that about 150 countries and 30 international organizations had signed BRI cooperation agreements by this summer with construction contracts reaching $2 trillion. At last year’s UN general assembly, Xi launched China’s Global Development Initiative (GDI), which directs efforts toward projects along the UN’s sustainable development goals. 

Likely Outcomes:

  • China will likely act in accordance to this shift of emphasis for the BRI and other its foreign interactions from large-scale infrastructure projects to smaller, technology-based digital partnerships and greener renewable investments that are seen as more likely to bring a return on investment. The scale of spending and loans for these types of projects will depend on the health of the Chinese economy as the country tries to gain its footing after its COVID reopening and as the U.S. and Western countries put pressure on trade.  
  • China’s offers of partnership and prospective cooperation opportunities to the Global South countries through its initiatives are likely to sway nations that perceive a sense of solidarity with Beijing in the increasingly polarized global order. China’s increased debt and financial consciousness in the context of the last decade of BRI may lead these countries to believe that favorable terms can be secured moving forward. There may also be a shift away from traditional Western-led lending institutions, even the G7-backed Partnership for Global Infrastructure and Investment (PGII), in favor of working with China on the type of development highlighted at this forum.  


"Everyone always focuses on individual projects, but BRI is ultimately a Chinese vision for how to engage with the world and Beijing is looking to celebrate that idea. The BRI was always a concept with very fluid goals and very fluid goal posts so Beijing can move the goal posts and redefine what success looks like." – Raffaello Pantucci, senior fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies

"China wants to project an impression that it's championing the agenda of economic development — namely through infrastructure-building and industrialization. At the same time, Beijing has taken advantage of many critiques of the Western countries' approach to foreign aid, which contains conditionalities related to good governance and human rights, and seeks to portray itself as a pragmatic partner." – Hong Zhang, researcher at the Harvard Kennedy School

"[Beijing] uses that to argue that, well, we are not challenging the United States as the No. 1 where the United States is strong, mainly in terms of hard power. But we are projecting ourselves as an alternative power — and by the way, the better one. Namely, the one who takes care of developing countries and development.” – Marina Rudyak, expert on Chinese aid and international development cooperation at Heidelberg University

"Putin is a major endorser and a major supporter of the alternative global vision that Xi Jinping is trying to provide right now. So maybe the logic here on the Chinese side is that having Vladimir Putin stand shoulder to shoulder with Xi Jinping ... helps China to secure its position and its role in those regions that have grievances over the Western system." – Aleksandra Berzina-Cerenkova, director of the China Studies Center at Riga Stradins University

Good Reads:

China's Xi warns against decoupling, lauds Belt and Road at forum (Reuters)

China’s Xi promises open markets and billions in new investments for ‘Belt and Road’ projects (AP)

As China's Belt and Road project turns 10, it's about more than just development (NPR)

China woos global south and embraces Putin at belt and road Beijing summit (The Guardian)

Leaders from emerging economies are visiting China for the ‘Belt and Road’ forum (AP)

Belt and Road Forum kicks off with Xi Jinping to lay out new pitch (Nikkei)

Putin Takes Center Stage at China's Belt and Road Forum (VOA)

China Defends Belt And Road Initiative Amidst Global Criticisms (Oil Price)

China’s Belt and Road Initiative to get a hi-tech boost, with ‘wealth of opportunities’ promised for partners (SCMP)