Demystifying the Belt and Road Initiative

This report describes the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), which is a transcontinental infrastructure plan conceptualized in China and implemented in more than 100 partner countries, primarily emerging economies. The BRI primarily promotes the building of physical infrastructure that will connect the partner countries globally.

Despite its needs-based approach, the BRI has been widely criticized for creating undesirable effects, such as increasing partner countries’ economic dependence on China through debt-trap lending. The authors of this report identify and explain what makes the BRI different from traditional development finance initiatives and provide a framework to assess the critiques. They also discuss the available evidence on the BRI’s effects and describe the implications for policymakers who are trying to determine how to assess and leverage the BRI.

Table of Contents

  • Chapter OneIntroduction
  • Chapter TwoThe Defining Characteristics of the BRI
  • Chapter ThreeAssessing the BRI and Its Externalities
  • Chapter FourEmpirical Evidence of the BRI’s Impacts and Externalities
  • Chapter FiveImplications and Recommendations for Policymakers
  • Appendix AThe Five Pillars of the BRI
  • Appendix BObjectives of the Marshall Plan 


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    Funding for this independent research was provided by the generous contributions of the RAND Social and Economic Well-Being Advisory Board and the RAND Center for Asia Pacific Policy (CAPP) Advisory Board. This research was conducted jointly within RAND Social and Economic Well-Being and the RAND Center for Asia Pacific Policy.
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