Amid the worsening COVID-19 epidemic, China’s Belt and Road Initiative is facing its single greatest challenge since President Xi Jinping launch the BRI in 2013 when he promised countries around the world greater access to Chinese markets and capital. That interconnectedness was once widely regarded in Africa and elsewhere as a huge opportunity, but now as store shelves in Nairobi run bare, oil piles up on the docks at the Port of Luanda, and BRI-inspired construction projects across the continent have stalled, that dependence on China is seen as a potentially dangerous liability.
While stakeholders in countries throughout Africa, MENA, and the Gulf regions are starting to call for a re-evaluation of their dependence on Chinese trade and financing, those questions may, in fact, be academic in the end because the reality is that there may not be a comparable alternative to China. The U.S., Japan, and the EU remain difficult markets for developing countries to penetrate and none of these advanced economies are spending the kind of money on infrastructure development that Beijing is as part of the BRI.
So what’s next for China’s BRI in Africa, the Mideast and Mediterranean regions? Zayed University political science professor Jonathan Fulton closely follows the BRI from Abu Dhabi and is cautiously optimistic that once the COVID-19 outbreak stabilizes, China’s BRI partners in these various regions will go back to business as usual because, well, they have to.
Johnathan joins Eric & Cobus to talk about what impact he forecasts that COVID-19 will have on China’s once ambitious global trading agenda.
- Wired: COVID-19 Is Traveling Along the New Silk Road by Parag Khanna
- Forbes: Coronavirus Outbreak Puts Belt And Road Projects On Hold, For Now by Wade Shepard
- Fitch Solutions: Political Sensitivities May Hamper Covid-19 Response In BRI Countries
Jonathan Fulton is an Assistant Professor of Political Science at Zayed University in Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates and a Nonresident Senior Fellow at the Atlantic Council. His research focuses on China-GCC relations, China’s Belt and Road Initiative, International Relations of the Gulf, and Chinese foreign policy. Jonathan was also the series editor of Changing Dynamics in Asia – Middle East Relations, a series analyzing linkages between two fascinating regions through theoretical lenses from International Relations, International Political Economy, and Foreign Policy Analysis.
He is the author of China’s Relations with the Gulf Monarchies and co-editor of External Powers and the Gulf Monarchies, both published by Routledge. My next book, Regions in the Belt and Road Initiative, is under contract with Routledge and will be published in 2020. It brings together specialists analyzing how the Belt and Road Initiative influences international politics in regions across Eurasia and the Horn of Africa. Jonathan’s next book project, also under contract, is The Routledge Handbook of China-Middle East Relations, bringing together an incredibly diverse group of international scholars, and is due to be published in late 2021.