Since its inception in 2013, Chinese government officials have insisted that the Belt and Road is solely an economic initiative and does not have any military motivations. But the BRI’s civil-military distinction is no longer as clear cut as it used to be. President Xi Jinping himself called for a strong BRI security system to protect China’s overseas interests, people and property.
One little-known aspect of the BRI is that much of the overseas construction, particularly ports, must conform to standards that conform to the People’s Liberation Army’s requirements. So, while today there’s little evidence that China is leveraging the BRI for security or military purposes, there are concerns that it is positioning to be able to do so in the future should the need arise.
Daniel Russel, vice president for international security and diplomacy at the New York-based Asia Society Policy Institute, examined the security dimensions of the BRI in a recent paper. Daniel joins Eric & Cobus to discuss what he calls the Belt and Road’s “civil-military fusion” in maritime, terrestrial and space environments.
- The Asia Society Policy Institute: Weaponizing the Belt and Road Initiative by Daniel Russel and Blake Berger
- National Bureau of Asian Research: Securing the Belt and Road Initiative — China’s Evolving Military Engagement Along the Silk Roads edited by Nadège Rolland
- War on the Rocks: Who Guards the ‘Maritime Silk Road’ by Veerle Nouwens
Daniel Russel is Vice President for International Security and Diplomacy at the Asia Society Policy Institute (ASPI). Previously he served as a Diplomat in Residence and Senior Fellow with ASPI for a one-year term. A career member of the Senior Foreign Service at the U.S. Department of State, he most recently served as the Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs. Prior to his appointment as Assistant Secretary on July 12, 2013, Mr. Russel served at the White House as Special Assistant to the President and National Security Council (NSC) Senior Director for Asian Affairs. During his tenure there, he helped formulate President Obama’s strategic rebalance to the Asia Pacific region, including efforts to strengthen alliances, deepen U.S. engagement with multilateral organizations, and expand cooperation with emerging powers in the region.
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