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Construction of a bridge in Mombasa, Kenya, by the China Road and Bridge Corp. Photo: Xinhua/Pan Siwei via Getty Images

China plans to send government agents to monitor projects along its Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), potentially extending the Chinese Communist Party's arm deeper into participating countries.

The big picture: Corruption has been damaging Chinese President Xi Jinping's signature foreign policy initiative. He now wants to deploy abroad the same Orwellian-sounding Central Commission for Discipline Inspection that has helped carry out his domestic anti-corruption campaign.

What's happening: Chinese projects have sparked allegations, investigations and convictions around the world.

  • The Malaysian government seized Chinese funds earlier this week, arguing that Chinese contractors took 80% of the funding for 2 pipeline projects after completing only 13% of the work.
  • In Ecuador, a dam financed and built by China was at the center of several convictions, including that of a former vice president of Ecuador who was caught on tape discussing Chinese bribes.
  • Chinese employees of the state-owned China Road and Bridge Corp. were arrested in Kenya after trying to bribe officials investigating a ticketing scam.
  • In Kyrgyzstan, following the failure of a Chinese power plant, an investigation revealed the contractor had been inflating costs, buying $1,600 fire extinguishers and $320 pliers.

Where it stands: China is eager to repair the Belt and Road brand and has promised to clean things up.

  • In April, at the Belt and Road Forum in Beijing, Xi declared, "In pursuing Belt and Road cooperation, everything should be done in a transparent way, and we should have zero tolerance for corruption."

Yes, but: The Chinese government does not want to get rid of all corruption, only unsanctioned corruption.

  • It wants to assert more control over its state-owned enterprises, which often have more influence than Chinese ministries, while preserving the flexibility to buy friends and pursue its own aims with less scrutiny.

What's needed: There are more effective ways China could reduce BRI corruption:

  • Make the program more transparent by releasing financing terms and contracts.
  • Enforce the foreign bribery laws it has already adopted.
  • Increase funding for anti-corruption training programs offered by independent international organizations.
  • Block Chinese companies that have been debarred by multilateral development banks for fraud and corruption from receiving BRI–related contracts.

The bottom line: The BRI is opaque by design, and it is unlikely to become more transparent until China faces higher financial and reputational costs or stronger demands from its partners.

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

Go deeper

Danger lurks in the Democrats' police talk

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and House Democrats celebrate last June after they passed the George Floyd Policing Act. Photo: Ting Shen/Xinhua via Getty Images

As Congress forges ahead with police reform legislation, Democratic operatives are warning lawmakers to steer clear of any defund-the-police rhetoric since it could hurt them in the midterms.

Why it matters: President Biden and his fellow Democrats say Congress needs to pass the George Floyd Policing Act, which would ban chokeholds, prohibit no-knock warrants and generally make it easier to hold officers accountable for misconduct.

Exclusive: Harris meets Guatemalan president Monday, travels in June

Photo: Jim Watson/AFP via Getty Images

Vice President Kamala Harris will meet virtually Monday with Guatemalan President Alejandro Giammattei to discuss solutions to the surge of migration, and she'll visit the region in June, a senior White House official told Axios.

Why it matters: The administration is taking a multi-pronged approach to solving the problem and also hopes to announce details about its plan for investing aid in Central America on Monday — although a final dollar amount has yet to be decided.

Scoop: Government pays for some sponsors to pick up migrant kids

MIgrant minors play soccer at a holding facility in Donna, Texas. Photo: Dario Lopez-Mills/AFP via Getty Images

The federal government has been paying travel costs for adult sponsors trying to get to shelters to pick up migrant children, a Department of Health and Human Services agency spokesperson confirmed to Axios.

Why it matters: Officials would not provide numbers, but the policy shift underscores the urgency the Biden administration feels to quickly release kids who crossed the U.S.-Mexico border alone and remain in HHS custody.