Stories by Jonathan Hillman

Expert Voices

U.S. handwringing overplays importance of Belt and Road agreements

Xi Jinping and his wife deboarding their flight in Italy
China's President Xi Jinping and his wife, Peng Liyuan, at Rome's Fiumicino airport on March 21, 2019. Photo: Tiziana Fabi/AFP/Getty Images

Xi Jinping arrived in Italy today to sign a memorandum of understanding for the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), a development that has already drawn criticism from the U.S.

The big picture: Washington’s frustration is understandable, but it plays right into Beijing’s hand. Publicly criticizing Italy’s decision gives unwarranted weight to vague documents that, like the BRI itself, overpromise and underdeliver.

Expert Voices

With Italy's endorsement, Belt and Road Initiative could divide the EU

A picture shows a statue and the Italian flag at half mast at the Vittoriano unknown soldier monument in central Rome on October 4, 2013.
The Vittoriano monument in central Rome on Oct. 4, 2013. Photo: Tiziana Fabi/AFP via Getty Images

Italy is preparing to endorse China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), according to the Financial Times, potentially handing Xi Jinping a major victory at a time when his signature foreign policy vision is under attack.

Why it matters: Italy is an unusual candidate for China’s BRI, economically and politically, since its membership in the EU means that it already has access to competitive financing for infrastructure projects without the strings and risks that come with borrowing from Beijing. As a member of the G7, Italy would be the largest economy yet to endorse the BRI.

Expert Voices

Malaysia railway deal shows why Belt and Road projects are hard to kill

Chinese President Xi Jinping (R) speaks to Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad (not pictured) during their meeting at Diaoyutai State Guesthouse on August 20 2018 in Beijing, China.
Chinese President Xi Jinping speaks to Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad (not pictured) on Aug. 20, 2018, in Beijing, China. Photo: Roman Pilipey/Pool via Getty Images

China and Malaysia are close to reviving a $20 billion railway deal, just a year after Malaysia’s new prime minister, Mahathir Mohamad, suggested the project might be scrapped.

Why it matters: The railway deal is just the latest example of how Belt and Road Initiative projects rarely die. As for leaders in Sri Lanka, Pakistan and elsewhere, Mahathir’s criticism of the BRI was not a rejection of it, but a bargaining strategy.

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