China is Transforming its Foreign Policy Objectives

Joseph Dana
4 min readFeb 10

When the history of China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) is written, it’s unclear how much there will be to say that is positive. After spending more than $1 trillion to build a network of infrastructure projects across emerging market countries designed to connect large portions of the global economy to Beijing, cracks are beginning to form. Funding is drying up, existing projects are falling apart, and receiving countries are drowning in debt. This is leading some nations to rebel openly against Chinese influence in their backyards. Given the softening global economic outlook, it’s time to ask some hard questions about the future of the BRI and how China might pivot its foreign policy efforts in the near future to cover over BRI’s endemic challenges.

From its origin, the BRI was a vehicle for extending Chinese influence across emerging markets from Asia to South America. In the mid-2010s, when the BRI gained real momentum, the collective economic narrative was one of irrational hope for emerging markets. From the World Economic Forum to the pages of the financial press, emerging markets were heralded as the next great economic miracle. Greater connectivity through smartphones and aviation links gave hope that a new middle class would arise from Kenya to Kazakhstan. Buoyed by fast urbanization and even faster birth rates, this middle class would propel the global economy to new heights.

As the world superpower closest to these population centers, China moved quickly to insert itself into these changing economic tides. Beijing was eager to connect these new hives of economic activity to the Chinese economy through the deployment of infrastructure programs, cheap loans, and technology partnerships. TikTok, the viral Chinese social media application that has taken the world by storm, has arguably been an arm of this expansion. The BRI was the “project of the century,” in the words of Chinese President Xi Jinping, that would reshape the global order with China at the center.

This was all possible in an era of cheap money spurred by low-interest rates and blockbuster Chinese economic growth, but the picture is gloomier now. The Chinese economy is struggling to regain its incredible growth rates in the face of a global economic downturn and continued restrictions from the COVID-19…

Joseph Dana