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Deciphering China’s Belt & Road Initiative

The Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) is a central theme of China’s foreign policy, particularly in developing regions like Africa where it’s linked to billions of dollars of infrastructure development. But when you ask Chinese officials “what exactly is the BRI?” no one really seems to have a definitive answer.

It’s a development agenda, a foreign policy initiative, a security strategy… and much more all mixed together.

While it may seem counterintuitive, but that ambiguity/confusion is actually intentional, according to Jonathan Hillman, a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and International and author of the new book “The Emperor’s New Road: China and the Project of the Century.” Jonathan joins Eric & Cobus to discuss his journey along the BRI and why it embodies China’s push for “incremental imperialism.”

Show Notes:

About Jonathan Hillman:

Jonathan E. Hillman is a senior fellow with the CSIS Economics Program and director of the Reconnecting Asia Project, one of the most extensive open-source databases tracking China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). Hillman has testified before Congress, briefed government officials and Fortune 500 executives, and written on economics, national security, and foreign policy issues for the Financial Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, and other outlets. His first book is The Emperor’s New Road: China and the Project of the Century (Yale University Press, 2020).

Prior to joining CSIS, Hillman served as a policy adviser at the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative, where he contributed to the 2015 U.S. National Security Strategy and the President’s Trade Agenda and directed the research and writing process for essays, speeches, and other materials explaining U.S. trade and investment policy. He has also worked as a researcher at the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, the Council on Foreign Relations, and in Kyrgyzstan as a Fulbright scholar. He is a graduate of the Harvard Kennedy School, where he was a presidential scholar, and Brown University, where he was elected to Phi Beta Kappa and received the Garrison Prize for best thesis in international relations.

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