Ahead of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) summit in Beijing this week, there were news reports that leaders at the confab will agree to encourage debt sustainability and green development in BRI projects. A willingness to include these points in the draft communique shows China's responsiveness to criticism that it is seeking to expand its influence through the initiative and that its projects are leaving participating countries with unsustainable debt and therefore pliant towards Beijing. Indeed, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi last week sought to dispel such concerns, saying the BRI is neither a geopolitical tool to boost influence nor a debt crisis for participating nations. He invited suggestions on how to address concerns.
And concerns there are - apart from the above issues, others include that BRI projects lack transparency, disregard community concerns and threaten the environment. While Chinese President Xi Jinping spoke about the BRI in 2013, an ambitious plan to build infrastructure linking China to the rest of Asia, Europe and Africa, it can be said that the process had begun earlier.