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Topics / Emerging Global Order

Taking a Critical Look at Beijing’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI)

A report from the Asia Society Policy Institute (ASPI) examines key BRI projects in the Indo-Pacific and their potential strategic and military implications for China, the region, and the United States

Weaponizing the Belt and Road Initiative, a new report cowritten by the Asia Society Policy Institute’s Daniel Russel and Blake H. Berger, takes a deeper look at Beijing’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), shedding light on its dual commercial and military capabilities as well as its strategic implications.

In the report’s foreword, Kevin Rudd, president of  ASPI, explains that there may be more than meets the eye to certain BRI investments:

China’s rapid military modernization program, the increasing ubiquity and assertiveness of its navy and air force, and its apparently insatiable appetite for ports worldwide have heightened the West’s concern about the BRI’s role in China’s security strategy. Moreover, the expansion of the BRI into space through the launch of the Beidou Satellite Network and into the digital realm through the Digital Silk Road raises further questions about how Beijing may use technological features of the BRI to enhance its influence over recipient states and to gain military advantages. Particular suspicion has accrued to seemingly overbuilt but underutilized ports along important Indian Ocean trade routes that appear more suitable as potential naval bases than as commercial operations.

It was in this context that ASPI, with the support of Carnegie Corporation of New York, decided to conduct an examination of certain BRI infrastructure projects in the Indo-Pacific to assess their likely military and geostrategic aspects. The project was designed to apply fact-based and objective scrutiny to the question of the military intent, involvement, and benefits from the BRI along China’s vital supply lines. This report complements ASPI’s other ongoing efforts to analyze the BRI, such as the Navigating the Belt and Road project.

The Asia Society Policy Institute (ASPI) tackles major policy challenges confronting the Asia-Pacific in security, prosperity, sustainability, and the development of common norms and values for the region, with a solution-oriented mandate. Daniel R. Russel is vice president for international security and diplomacy at ASPI. Blake H. Berger is a senior program officer at ASPI.


TOP: A Star Ferry boat sails in front of the Hong Kong skyline, February 22, 2004. (Credit: Mike Clarke/AFP via Getty Images)