Disentangling Western media's bias on Belt and Road Initiative

Gloria Sand
Western media has focused on the feasibility of President Xi Jinping's vision instead of providing a balanced evaluation of China's new eight-point strategy on BRI.
Gloria Sand

At the recently concluded Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation in Beijing, Chinese President Xi Jinping praised the progress of the investment-led global initiative he launched 10 years ago and unveiled the future trajectory of this vision.

Xi introduced a new eight-point strategy at the forum, which was attended by leaders and representatives of 140 countries and regions, and continues to guide China toward success since his famous "Promote People-to-People Friendship and Create a Better Future" speech at Kazakhstan's Nazarbayev University.

While it would have been reasonable to expect a balanced evaluation of President Xi's notion of "progress" and critical analyses that contextualize the new eight points guiding China's strategy, the Western media has chosen to predominantly seek out analysts who argue against the feasibility of Xi's vision.

These analysts highlighted the numerous obstacles that may prevent the realization of Xi's dream in the foreseeable future, both in terms of foreign relations and economic policies.

Western commentators have focused on two main points: financing small projects to improve livelihoods in developing countries and promoting green development.

According to them, President Xi's intentions regarding green development were not to be trusted, while Chinese representatives' statements on the importance of considering climate change and its consequences were unreliable. It was deemed a "classic" propaganda game and unrealistic and unachievable to be even worth considering.

You would think that Europe and the United States have shown a clear and virtuous attitude toward sustainable growth and consumption that allows them to make sarcastic comments on the topic.

Even President Xi's statement on the Belt and Road Initiative now focused on financing "small and beautiful" projects was seen as an admission of failure and China's realization of unrealistic goals.

Yet, no op-ed has questioned the underlying meaning of this "small and beautiful" formula. President Xi's use of the descriptor "small" alone has been read as an implicit admission that larger initiatives have failed and that China will now need to lower its expectations.

It is surprising that no one has mentioned China's belief in constantly adjusting its strategies to enhance efficiency, a principle it has followed since the establishment of the first special economic zones in the late 1970s. In terms of project selection for financing, what practical changes can we expect?

China has chosen to once again assess the strengths and weaknesses of an ongoing initiative. The aim is to enhance its strong points and minimize any negative consequences.

China's leadership may have recognized that focusing on more targeted and advanced projects within the Belt and Road Initiative can foster greater opportunities for partnership and collaboration among participating countries and regions. It is likely they might be adjusting their plans accordingly.

Two additional final considerations should be given to the conclusion of the summit in Beijing.

Regarding the number of countries represented in Beijing, it is important to note that there is a significant level of international participation.

Representatives from France, Italy, England, Germany, Hungary, and other countries were present. In certain instances, presidents or prime ministers didn't show up to avoid potential media backlash. However, they still authorized and even encouraged their delegations to participate in the forum.

What does this mean? In the current tense geopolitical climate, countries must carefully consider their relationships with China. But as the number shows, few countries are actually ready to decouple.

While BRI is accused of concealing its strategic objectives beneath its economic facade, then what about the European Global Gateway? Or America's Build Back Better World initiative? By providing alternatives to the Belt and Road Initiative's infrastructure investment options, these initiatives aim to reduce China's influence.

There is a significant distinction among them. The BRI is progressing and undergoing restructuring to enhance the efficiency of its individual projects, while the competitors have thus far only provided written explanations outlining the implementation plans for their projects. No word even on when or if this will occur.

(The author is an independent researcher based in Paris. The views are her own.)

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