China’s Belt and Road Initiative in South East Asia
Image of the BRI conference held in April. Photo credit (Chanborey, Cheunboran. 2019)
In late April, Chinese President Xi Jinping held a meeting with leaders of countries involved with the Belt and Road Initiative, or BRI. Included in the meeting were more than 1,500 delegates and 40 heads of state. Jinping promised another $440 billion to continue building infrastructure. As of now, 126 countries have endorsed the BRI, the most recent of them being Italy, an EU nation and member of the G7 (2019. The road ahead for China’s BRI partners; China’s Marshall Plan.).
According to a report, “Asia needs at least $8.2 trillion in financing infrastructure investment from 2010 to 2020” (Chanborey, Cheunboran. 2019). Thus, when the BRI was first inaugurated in 2013, almost all the South East Asian countries embraced the infrastructure deal as a way to help facilitate their own trade (primarily with China) and improve their own country’s infrastructure.
Since China is providing most of the funding for these countries, there is concern among scholars and the participating nations that “smaller countries have to compromise on their interests and foreign policy autonomy” and that, “ASEAN member states might have to conform to China’s demands at the expense of ASEAN unity and centrality” (Chanborey, Cheunboran. 2019).
Additionally, as the South China Sea issue heats up, more South East Asian countries are feeling like China is putting a lot of pressure on them. This is likely due to the fact that these countries are now in a lot of debt to China due to the BRI. With so much debt, nations that claim parts of the South China Sea are not likely to receive any favors in terms of China ceding portions of the Sea to them.
Pakistan has received the most aid from Beijing thus far. Although the Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan attended the summit, Indian delegates did not attend. This is likely due to the fact that part of the BRI initiative includes plans to put a road and other infrastructure through the disputed area of Kashmir. Additionally, India is very much invested in the Indian Ocean due to its many oil and gas drilling. This makes India very wary of Beijing’s intentions as Chinese Naval and merchant ships will pass very close to India’s shores. (Jaaved, Amjed. 2019).
China is clearly seeking to become a world superpower through the BRI initiative, which stretches along the ancient silk road and beyond. Threatening peace in the South China Sea, perhaps China, by militarizing the islands in the Sea is securing them in order for merchant vessels to have safe passage to Chinese ports. Another intention may be that since China is funding so many projects for the countries that claim the islands, the countries will stop fighting for domination over territory in the Sea so that China does not disrupt their funding for projects. With the Kashmir infrastructure planned and the Indian Ocean becoming flooded by Chinese navy and trading ships, India will view this as a threat to its national security since it too is seeking to expand its own power and influence around the world. Another consideration is that with China providing so much for its Asian neighbors, it may be seeking to create economic and military alliances to the indebted parties involved.
2019. The road ahead for China’s BRI partners; China’s Marshall Plan. The Jakarta Post. Accessed from https://www.straitstimes.com/asia/east-asia/the-road-ahead-for-chinas-bri-partners on May 8, 2019.
Chanborey, Cheunboran. 2019. Cambodia embraces Belt and Road Initiative. Accessed from https://www.khmertimeskh.com/50596624/cambodia-embraces-belt-and-road-initiative/ on May 8, 2019.