BRI Participants & Abstracts

Towards a New Global Order?
Ambitions, Scope and Challenges of China’s Belt and Road Initiative


  • Bossuyt, Fabienne (Ghent University)
  • Danilovich, Maria (Uppsala University)
  • Dessein, Bart (Ghent University)
  • Gaensmantel, Frank (University of Groningen)
  • Harnisch, Sebastian (Ruprecht-Karls-Universität Heidelberg)
  • Hoering, Uwe (Stiftung Asienhaus)
  • Yen, Kung-liang 顏良恭 (National Cheng-Chi University)
  • Yu, Jie (LSE)


Fabienne Bossuyt: China’s involvement in Central Asia through the BRI and beyond: high but contested impact

While almost absent in Central Asia in the 1990s, China has made a remarkable rise over the last ten years up to the point where it is now a leading actor in the region. In recent years, China’s international development activities have been attracting growing attention in the academic literature. However, the development assistance to Central Asia by China has received little attention, despite its increasing involvement in the region, which has gained significant momentum with the onset of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). This presentation explores to what extent China’s assistance to Central Asia through the BRI and beyond has an impact on the ground. ‘Impact’ in this study is understood as ‘the positive and negative changes produced by a development intervention, directly or indirectly, intended or unintended. This involves the main impacts and effects resulting from the activity on the local social, economic, environmental and other development indicators’ (OECD, 2017). The presentation concludes that China’s involvement in Central Asia has a tangible impact on the ground. However, the positive impact of China’s involvement, not least improved living standards as a result of enhanced transport and electricity infrastructure, is being offset by the negative implications of its increased involvement, including deepening economic and financial dependency.

Bart Dessein: The BRI and Central Asia from a historical perspective

China’s imperial history is characterized by extending and shrinking zones of Chinese cultural influence. This cultural influence also regards Central Asia, parts of which were under Chinese influence during certain periods of Chinese history. After the Tang emperor Tang Taizong (r. 627–649) was the first to express his conviction that Central Asia was part of the Chinese realm, the region was also subject to ‘Chinese’ rule under the Mongol Yuan dynasty’s (1271/1279–1368) and the Manchu Qing dynasty. In this paper, the importance of China’s ‘One Belt One Road’ initiative will be discussed against the background of China’s ‘historical consciousness’ regarding the Central Asian region, i.e., as part of the contemporary re-interpretation of the ‘all under heaven’ (tianxia) concept.

Frank Gaenssmantel: Seizing the unseizable – the EU and the Belt and Road Initiative

This contribution will examine how the EU has reacted to China’s Belt and Road Initiative. It will start from an overview of what the BRI represents for China and how it has been perceived from the outside. It will then turn to EU reactions to the BRI, which will be read in the broader context of EU-China relations and the EU’s outlook on global affairs. It will be argued that, on the one hand, EU positions show a constant effort at concretising and defining BRI in a way that fits the EU system of governance. On the other hand, they also reflect EU ambiguity about China as both a partner and a competitor.

Uwe Hoering: The Expansion of the Developmental State

Economically, the five years old Belt and Road Initiative is strongly shaped by the adjustment strategy of Chinese state capitalism in response to the growth and accumulation crises. This offers a range of opportunities for participating countries regarding much needed infrastructure development and investments. At the same time, the Chinese led deeper integration into globalization poses huge challenges for the affected economies, including lacking state capacities and negative side effects. Additionally, contractions between national development aspirations and Chinese objectives threaten the overall sustainability of the initiative further.