China currently faces daunting challenges in its domestic economy. But weakness in the real estate market and consumer spending at home is unlikely to stem its rising influence abroad.
In mid-October 2023, China celebrated the 10-year anniversary of its Belt and Road Initiative, or BRI. The BRI seeks to connect China with countries around the world via land and maritime networks, with the aim of improving regional integration, increasing trade and stimulating economic growth. Through the expansion of the BRI, China also sought to extend its global influence, especially in developing regions.
During its first decade, the initiative has faced a barrage of criticism from the West, mainly for saddling countries with debt, inattention to environmental impact, and corruption.
It has also encountered unexpected challenges – notably the COVID-19 pandemic, which led to massive supply chain issues and restrictions on the movement of Chinese workers overseas. Yet, as the BRI heads into its second decade, global economic trends suggest it will continue to play an important role in spreading Chinese influence.
I’m an associate professor of global studies at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, Shenzhen, where I teach about business-government relations in emerging economies. In my new book, “China’s Chance to Lead,” I discuss which countries have already and are now most likely to seek out and benefit from Chinese spending. Understanding this helps explain why China and the Belt and Road Initiative are poised to benefit greatly from the global economy over the next several decades.
Malaysia’s unlikely prominence
In October 2013, China President Xi Jinping announced the launch of the maritime portion of the BRI during a speech in Jakarta. At the time, Indonesia appeared to be an ideal candidate for Chinese infrastructure spending, yet it was Malaysia – surprisingly – that emerged as a far more avid participant.