Skip to main content

How is Belt and Road being viewed by Asian elites?

Updated 2019.12.08 16:05 GMT+8


A man takes photo of a sign promoting the Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation in Beijing, China, April 22, 2019. /VCG Photo

Editor's Note: Ji Xianbai is a research fellow with the International Political Economy Program of S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, Nanyang Technological University, Singapore. The article reflects the author's opinions, and not necessarily the views of CGTN.

In September 2013, Chinese President Xi Jinping pronounced China's international economic cooperation vision, as incarnated in what was later termed the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), in Kazakhstan. Six years on, how is the BRI being perceived in BRI partner countries?

Our research team at Nanyang Technological University led by Associate Professors Pradumna B. Rana and Chia Wai-Mun, and funded by Singapore's Ministry of Education, conducted an online perception survey among Asian opinion leaders on various aspects of the BRI earlier this year.

We received 1,230 responses from opinion leaders (including several ministerial-ranking officials) based in 26 countries of East and Southeast Asia, South Asia and Central Asia that have signed a memorandum of understanding on the BRI with China. In countries like Pakistan, Singapore, Bangladesh and the Philippines, more than 100 responses were collected.  In terms of affiliation breakdown, 56 percent came from academia, 23 percent from policymakers and international civil servants, eight percent from business leaders, and six percent each from the civil society and media.

Several observations and policy lessons emerged from our survey.

First, Asian opinion leaders harbored largely positive views towards the BRI. They believe that China launched the BRI primarily to promote regional economic integration and connectivity. More than 40 percent of the respondents said the BRI represented a net opportunity for their countries whereas only 18 percent considered the BRI to be a net risk to be avoided.

Moreover, a similar share of the respondents rejected the notion of Chinese "debt-trap diplomacy."  As to why, some opinion leaders attributed the debt sustainability challenges confronting some Asian BRI countries to pre-existing macroeconomic vulnerabilities, fiscal mismanagement or purely inappropriate project implementation rather than any sort of malicious intention on the part of the Chinese government. 

Second, Asian opinion leaders had clear and strong opinions on the substantive focus of the BRI engagement. Generally, among the BRI's five stated policy objectives, strengthening infrastructure connectivity and facilitating unimpeded trade were viewed by the respondents to be more important to their countries than policy coordination, cultural bonds or financial integration.

China-Europe Railway Express. /VCG Photo

Specific to the issue of infrastructure, the respondents to our survey felt that transport, energy and industrial facilities should be high on the BRI's agenda. Interestingly, Pakistani and Bangladeshi respondents almost unanimously perceived energy infrastructure as priority or relevant. This was a reflection of the fact that the two countries in recent years had suffered from frequent blackouts and load shedding. By contrast, few opinion leaders felt that the BRI should play an active role in developing institutional or other types of soft infrastructure. 

Third, Asian opinion leaders saw both benefits and potential risks associated with the BRI. On the one hand, the respondents felt that the BRI would help their countries attract more trade, investment and tourism earnings from China and other BRI-participating countries. They also counted on the BRI to stimulate economic growth and technological advancement by closing infrastructure financing gaps in their countries. On the other hand, they were aware of some of the potential downsides of the BRI in relation to employment, environment, debt and corruption. But on balance, opinion leaders displayed a sense of constructive criticism.

Finally, Asian opinion leaders offered their advice to both Chinese and their own governments on how to maximize the BRI's benefits while managing risks. Among others, they called on China to enhance overall transparency of the BRI undertaking, offer employment and technology transfer opportunities to empower local communities, adapt the BRI to local needs and sensitivities, and allow foreign contractors to bid for BRI projects. 

They also urged their home governments to strengthen internal governance (including fiscal conditions) and participate in the BRI with purpose by developing a complementary national infrastructure development strategy.  Being level to the public about possible pros and cons of BRI projects and performing due diligence were also highlighted by the respondents as the advice that they would offer. 

The BRI is entering its seventh year of development. Our survey offers a broadly representative snapshot of the perceptions of Asian elites on the BRI. And since it is in everyone's best interest to see the BRI succeed in a win-win manner, the policy recommendations arising from our survey should also be taken seriously by policymakers and stakeholders in China as well as countries that take part in BRI cooperation.

(If you want to contribute and have specific expertise, please contact us at


Popular posts from this blog

SSG Commando Muddassir Iqbal of Pakistan Army

“ Commando Muddassir Iqbal was part of the team who conducted Army Public School operation on 16 December 2014. In this video he reveals that he along with other commandos was ordered to kill the innocent children inside school, when asked why should they kill children after killing all the terrorist he was told that it would be a chance to defame Taliban and get nation on the side. He and all other commandos killed children and later Taliban was blamed.
Muddassir Iqbal has deserted the military and now he is  with mujahedeen somewhere in AF PAK border area”
For authenticity of  this tape journalists can easy reach to his home town to interview his family members or   ISPR as he reveals his army service number”
Asalam o Alaikum: My name is Muddassir Iqbal. My father’s name is Naimat Ali. I belong to Sialkot divison (Punjab province), my village is Shamsher Poor and district, tehsil and post office  Narowal. Unfortunately I was working in Pakistan army. I feel embarrassed to tell you …

China's Raise as a Maritime Power

China's Rise as a Maritime PowerOcean Policy from Mao Zedong to Xi JinpingTAKEDA Jun’ichiSenkaku IslandsApr 23, 2014 PDF Download1. IntroductionThe international community has been viewing China's recent moves relating to the seas as representing "maritime expansion," and the Chinese themselves have come to talk about making their country a maritime power. In the political report he delivered in the autumn of 2012 to the eighteenth National Congress of the Communist Party of China, which stands at the top of the country's power structure, General Secretary Hu Jintao declared, "We should enhance our capacity for exploiting marine resources, develop the marine economy, protect the marine ecological environment, resolutely safeguard China's maritime rights and interests, and build China into a maritime power."1 This was Hu's final report as the top leader of the CPC; after delivering it he stepped down from his posts as general secretary and chairm…

Guardians of the Belt and Road

Guardians of the Belt and RoadThe internationalization of China's private security companiesby Helena Legarda and Meia NouwensFollowing the build-up of infrastructure and investment projects along China’s extensive Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), private security companies from China are also increasingly going global – to protect Chinese assets and the growing number of Chinese nationals living and working in countries along the BRI, in sometimes unstable regions. Out of the 5,000 registered Chinese private security companies, 20 provide international services, employing 3,200 security personnel in countries like Iraq, Sudan and Pakistan.The impact of this newly developing Chinese activity abroad is analyzed in this MERICS China Monitor. Chinese private security companies’ international activities pose a challenge to European interests as they are often largely unregulated and their security staff are often inexperienced in dealing with serious conflict situations and combat. EU …