Soon the whole world will hear about China’s Silk Road of Health.
Many experts have been sceptical about China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), seeing it as highly touted. The Economist writes about it in a special issue of The World in 2021.
Chinese leader Xi Jinping’s distinctive foreign policy is a combination of economic engagement, diplomacy and devious branding. It is a policy that seeks to seize the chance, at the right time, when US leadership is shaken, to create a more Chinese-friendly world order.
China claims that the BRI shows other countries the way towards new development and transformation. However, the US believes that China is thus exporting its authoritarianism by luring poor countries into a debt trap. That said, the BRI began giving up long before the coronavirus pandemic began.
One of China’s major projects is the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) with $60 billion in investments and loans. Several power plants were built under this project, but then many projects were mothballed. The CPEC also failed to take into account Pakistan’s difficult financial and balance-of-payments situation. In the end, the project failed to significantly improve or change relations but only exposed hidden problems.
China has been actively interfering in economic policies from Malaysia and Sri Lanka to the Maldives, while facing local resentment. All this has slowed down China’s strategic and economic objectives.
The coronavirus pandemic has also changed the situation in this region. China now needs to roll over debts around the world and enforce the terms of many loans. According to experts, in 2021 the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank will announce an increase in bad loans and possibly a downgrade.
However, in the first half of 2021, the BRI project could get new life thanks to vaccine diplomacy.
Three coronavirus vaccines have already been approved in China. Clinical trials of Chinese vaccines are already underway in Brazil and Pakistan. China may be ahead of western vaccines on Asian markets. In addition, Chinese vaccines may be cheaper than Western vaccines.
For the time being, China has already begun promoting its coronavirus vaccine in BRI partner countries Mexico and the Philippines. In doing so, the PRC is offering to help its partners pay for the vaccine.
It is noted that Xi Jinping wants to help China rid itself of its reputation as a predator creditor and source of the coronavirus by taking responsibility for helping countries along the new Silk Road.