Belt & Road Reboot: Beijing’s Bid to De-Risk Its Global Infrastructure Initiative
Ammar Malik, AidData, William & Mary
In this study, we provide myth-busting evidence about the changing nature, scale, and scope of China’s overseas development program. Our analysis is based on the 3.0 version of AidData’s Global Chinese Development Finance (GCDF) dataset, which is a uniquely comprehensive and granular source of information about 20,985 projects committed from 2000-2021 across 165 low- and middle-income countries supported by loans and grants from official sector institutions in China worth more than $1.3 trillion. Contrary to the conventional wisdom, we do not find that Beijing’s annual lending and grant-giving to the developing world has plummeted to nearly zero. It remains the world’s single largest official source of international development finance. Our analysis also reveals new insights about Beijing’s ongoing bid to de-risk the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI)—and outflank its competitors. We document the specific measures that China is taking to manage three different types of risk in its overseas project portfolio: (1) repayment risk, (2) environmental, social, and governance (ESG) risk, and (3) reputational risk. The G7, we argue, should not underestimate the ambition of Beijing’s ongoing efforts to future-proof its flagship, global infrastructure initiative.
Dr. Ammar A. Malik is Senior Research Scientist at AidData, where he leads the Chinese Development Finance Program. His team develops pioneering methods, such as the Tracking Underreported Financial Flows (TUFF) methodology, to track and analyze underreported financial flows from non-traditional donors to developing countries. Prior to joining AidData, Dr. Malik was Director of Research at Evidence for Policy Design (EPoD), a research initiative at Harvard Kennedy School, where he led research-policy collaborations in the Middle East region by deploying evidence-based insights and training to improve public policies and leadership. His own research covers several themes within international development: spatial structures of cities, transport infrastructure investments, labor markets, public service delivery, forced displacement, and gender. Dr. Malik’s broader research agenda seeks to understand how the form and function of cities, particularly the physical mobility of its residents, shapes economic outcomes at the individual and regional levels. His papers have appeared in leading academic journals, including Environmental Modelling and Software, Science and Public Policy, Journal of Transport Geography and the Journal of Artificial Societies and Social Simulation.
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Presented with support from the Louis Wetmore Fund and the Leonard Heumann Fund.