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The Sunrise East Kempinski Hotel in Beijing, where the Belt and Road Forum is being held April 25–27. Photo: Xinhua/Zhang Yuwei via Getty Images

On Thursday Chinese President Xi Jinping will welcome leaders from 37 countries and delegates from over 150 countries at the second Belt and Road Forum in Beijing — an opportunity to promote the initiative's successes and address issues raised by its critics.

The big picture: High-profile projects in Sri Lanka, Malaysia, Montenegro and elsewhere have undercut the Belt and Road Initiative's promise to deliver "win-win" outcomes, appearing to benefit China at the expense of its partners. Xi will be aiming to repair the damage these scandals have done to the BRI brand.

Where it stands: China's partners and outside observers have raised concerns around the BRI's strategic aims, as well as about corruption, debt sustainability, environmental impacts and local benefits.

  • A draft communique includes new language that underscores the importance of manageable debt loads and "green development."
  • Chinese officials are considering steps to improve project selection and assert greater control of the BRI, including adopting criteria for BRI projects. There has been no definition for what qualifies as a BRI project, allowing interest groups within and outside China to attach their agendas to the BRI.
  • Beijing also wants to attract more partners to finance BRI projects, helping it share the burden for backing projects as well as the reputational hit when things go wrong.

Yes, but: Real changes will involve difficult costs, mostly for China.

  • Ensuring that projects deliver more local benefits — by hiring more local workers, for example — means hiring fewer Chinese workers.
  • Bringing in outside partners could mean less control over project specifics.
  • Increasing transparency will make it harder to favor certain firms and funnel money to friends in high places.

The bottom line: China's promises for a revamped BRI will require further monitoring and scrutiny. While recent statements from Chinese officials are encouraging, better outcomes will require not just symbolic documents and politically expedient promises but also greater transparency and stricter enforcement.

Go deeper: Read the CSIS Global Infrastructure Task Force's BRI report, "The Higher Road."

Jonathan Hillman is director of the Reconnecting Asia Project at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

Go deeper

Congress hunts for shortcut to pass defense funding, debt limit combo

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer returned to his office Monday. Photo: Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images

The scramble in Congress to pass the National Defense Authorization Act is being complicated by an effort to tie it to a needed hike in the federal debt limit.

Why it matters: The House and Senate are rapidly coming up against a series of deadlines they must address before the end of the year — or risk disrupting crucial military funding and upending the economy. Congressional leaders are now hoping they can knock out both "must-pass" priorities in one, complex swoop.

Scoop: Inside Jake Sullivan's call with U.S. hostages' families

Photo: Jim Lo Scalzo/EPA/Bloomberg via Getty Images

National security adviser Jake Sullivan spoke last week with relatives of U.S. hostages and others wrongfully detained abroad, after more than two dozen families expressed frustrations about their inability to get a meeting with him or President Biden, Axios has learned.

Why it matters: Participants on the video call, which began at 7pm ET Friday and lasted more than an hour, told Axios they didn't get satisfactory answers to many of their questions. Nonetheless, they were encouraged by Sullivan's commitment to follow up and pledge to be personally available to them and others going forward.

2 hours ago - World

Biden huddles with European allies on Ukraine ahead of Putin call

Putin in the Kremlin. Photo: Grigory Sysoyev/Sputnik via Getty

President Biden will seek to convince Russia's Vladimir Putin in a phone call Tuesday that the price of invading Ukraine would be steeper than anything he's faced in the past.

Driving the news: Biden held a call on Ukraine this evening with the leaders of France, Germany, Italy and the U.K., while Secretary of State Tony Blinken called Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to offer America's "unwavering support."