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 (London School of Economics and Political Science)


Session 1: The development strategy of China’s BRI: Ambitions, scope and challenges

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.

Liang-Kung Yen: Assessing Demand and Progress in China’s Belt and Road Initiative: A Global Governance Perspective

Assuming the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) as well as the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) are part of global governance, I first look at what causes and shapes the demand for the BRI and the AIIB. Five determinants will be discussed: strategic, functional, normative elements, as well as domestic politics and regionalism. I then assess the BRI and the AIIB’s progress in terms of its legitimacy, efficacy/effectiveness and durability. For Beijing’s BRI to be a success, it needs to combine strategic and functional elements, and it needs to build on regionalism and the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership to liberalize trade among key Asian economies. For now, it does not include many of the smaller countries that will receive the bulk of funding. Moreover, China may need to “open its doors wider than its partners to allow local entrepreneurship to flourish so business can compete with Chinese companies on a level playing field” (Churchill 2019). The BRI, as a national scheme that is unilaterally operated by Beijing, could easily be used to promote its own national interests. The BRI has been criticized for being too “China centric”. In addition, for the BRI to gain legitimacy and durability, Beijing needs to focus on sustainable financing and on avoiding debt traps. It needs to take care of its environmental impact, to encourage private sector participation, and to improve the transparency of its trade and infrastructure plan. Finally, while the BRI seems to be remarkably effective, China needs to pay attention to its cooperative partners’ domestic politics, as changes in governments, leadership attitudes and public sentiment (nationalism) may decisively cause the BRI to be terminated.

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.

Session 2: Regional implications and responses to China’s BRI

Jie Yu: Money and Might: the uneasy relations between China and Southeast Asia with many belts and roads

The Belt and Road Initiative brings opportunities in trade, engineering and in finance, particularly in supporting the internationalisation of the Renminbi to China’s Southeast Asia neighbours. But it also poses serious and fundamental challenges to the existing international legal framework, in relation to both commercial and political disputes. The BRI also impacts on foreign policy. Many Southeast Asian countries face the dilemma of being eager BRI participants and traditional US allies, unsure with which superpower to side on issues such as the South China Sea and global trade wars. It may be unlikely that China will alter the BRI’s trajectory based on criticism and feedback from its neighbours. But Beijing must maintain a close understanding of how countries across Southeast Asia are reacting to the BRI, and respond to their concerns.

Fabienne Bossuyt: Connecting Eurasia: Is cooperation between the EU, China and Russia in Central Asia possible?

Given the ongoing tensions between the European Union (EU) and Russia, only few experts will give serious thought to the prospect of trilateral cooperation on connectivity between the EU, China and Russia in Central Asia. However, as China further embarks on implementing its Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) and remains firmly set on pursuing the ambitious goal of connecting China overland with Europe, the EU and Russia – as indispensable stakeholders for this continental connection to successfully materialize – have been developing policy responses to China’s initiative that reveal an unexpected willingness to cooperate. In scrutinizing the likelihood of cooperation on connectivity between the EU, China and Russia in Central Asia, this paper identifies the common interests between the three sides, and highlights to what extent cooperation between them is possible in Central Asia. In doing so, the paper points to the main opportunities while outlining the main bottlenecks, which mostly stem from the underlying geopolitical rivalry between these three actors, as well as their diverging beliefs and approaches to connectivity and development.

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.