After Malaysia became the first country to tear up its corruptly overpriced BRI deals in 2018, this year has seen a shift in the rhetoric around China’s grand strategy. The second phase of the Belt and Road Initiative is shifting focus from grand infrastructure projects like ports and rail to “soft infrastructure” like special economic zones and people to people exchanges. This shift in emphasis has been largely driven by economic considerations, but also follows foreign criticism about debt-trap diplomacy, and local concerns in BRI partner countries about corruption, imported jobs and environmental issues.

The new BRI, China says, will be “lean, clean and green”, and continue to be a “win-win” deal for partner countries. And the Malaysian deals, renegotiated by Prime Minister Mahathir’s government, are back on. But how much in the BRI has really changed, and is there any harm in the West embracing China’s vision for an interconnected world?

Episode 11 of the Lowy Institute’s podcast, Rules Based Audio, out today; takes a look at the second phase of the Belt and Road Initiative, from two perspectives. Chinese foreign policy expert and former diplomat at the Chinese mission to the EU Professor Wang Yiwei outlines China’s vision of the BRI; while the US-based BRI expert Nadège Rolland takes a more critical view.

Nadège Rolland is the Senior Fellow for Political and Security Affairs at The National Bureau of Asian Research in Washington DC. Her research focuses mainly on China’s foreign and defense policy. Prior to joining NBR, she was an analyst and senior adviser on Asian and Chinese strategic issues to the French Ministry of Defense. She is the author of the 2017 book China’s Eurasian Century? Political and Strategic Implications of the Belt and Road Initiative and a regular commentator in international media.

Professor Wang Yiwei is the Jean Monnet Chair professor, director of the Institute of International Affairs and Director of the Centre for European Studies at Renmin University in China. He was formerly a diplomat at the Chinese mission to the European Union. His main research interests include Belt and Road Studies, European integration, Chinese foreign policy and EU China relations. His recent books include, from 2017, China Connects the World - What’s Behind the Belt and Road Initiative which has been translated into 15 different languages, and he is a frequent commentator in Chinese and international media.

Rules Based Audio is a half-hour, fortnightly podcast covering stories from the cracks and faultlines in the global order, hosted by Kelsey Munro and powered by the Lowy Institute. 

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