China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) (一带一路) is a strategy initiated by the People’s Republic of China that seeks to connect Asia with Africa and Europe via land and maritime networks with the aim of improving regional integration, increasing trade and stimulating economic growth.
The name was coined in 2013 by China’s President Xi Jinping, who drew inspiration from the concept of the Silk Road established during the Han Dynasty 2,000 years ago – an ancient network of trade routes that connected China to the Mediterranean via Eurasia for centuries. The BRI has also been referred to in the past as 'One Belt One Road'.
The BRI comprises a Silk Road Economic Belt – a trans-continental passage that links China with south east Asia, south Asia, Central Asia, Russia and Europe by land – and a 21st century Maritime Silk Road, a sea route connecting China’s coastal regions with south east and south Asia, the South Pacific, the Middle East and Eastern Africa, all the way to Europe.
The initiative defines five major priorities:
and connecting people.
The BRI has been associated with a very large programme of investments in infrastructure development for ports, roads, railways and airports, as well as power plants and telecommunications networks. Since 2019, Chinese state-led BRI lending volumes have been in decline. The BRI now places increasing emphasis on “high quality investment”, including through greater use of project finance, risk mitigation tools, and green finance.
The BRI is an increasingly important umbrella mechanism for China’s bilateral trade with BRI partners: as of March 2020, the number of countries that have joined the Belt and Road Initiative by signing a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with China is 138.