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Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

We've all heard of China's Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), which I have described as a growing global network of "Chinese-led, largely opaque alternatives to Western-led institutions and global norms."

Yes, but: Western observers have tended to ignore a BRI-linked initiative that Chinese President Xi Jinping has recently touted — the "Health Silk Road" (健康丝绸之路).

  • Xi has alluded to the initiative in phone calls and letters with several European heads of government since the coronavirus pandemic began, including Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte and French President Emmanuel Macron.

Why it matters: "It is the clearest example of the fact that BRI is not about infrastructure construction, but a broader effort to redraw the world according to Beijing’s preferred design," said Nadège Rolland, a senior fellow at the National Bureau of Asian Research.

The intrigue: In August 2017, the then-new, China-backed WHO director-general, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, gave a speech hailing the Health Silk Road's creation.

  • "President Xi’s proposal for a Health Silk Road, which strengthens and renews ancient links between cultures and people, with health at its core, is indeed visionary," said the WHO chief. "If we are to secure the health of the billions of people represented here, we must seize the opportunities the Belt and Road Initiative provides."

Details: The Health Silk Road "is not a multilateral institution per se," said Rolland. "It’s more a hub-and-spoke organism, like the 17+1 model: China at the center, with multiple bilateral arms extending outwards."

The big picture: China is seeking to position itself as a global leader that can be relied on in times of crisis.

  • The BRI, and its affiliated Health Silk Road, are both a rhetorical and an organizational means of defining the economic and geopolitical relationship between China and other countries as that of magnanimous leader and grateful followers.

Go deeper: A China-centric 21st century

Go deeper

Updated 5 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

  1. Health: CDC director defends agency's response to pandemic — CDC warns highly transmissible coronavirus variant could become dominant in U.S. in March.
  2. Politics: Biden readies massive shifts in policy for his first days in office.
  3. Vaccine: Fauci: 100 million doses in 100 days is "absolutely" doable.
  4. Economy: Unemployment filings explode again.
  5. Tech: Kids' screen time sees a big increase.
  6. World: WHO team arrives in China to investigate pandemic origins.
Dave Lawler, author of World
5 hours ago - World

Alexey Navalny detained after landing back in Moscow

Navalny and his wife shortly before he was detained. Photo: Kirill Kudryavtsev/AFP via Getty

Russian opposition leader Alexey Navalny was detained upon his return to Moscow on Sunday, which came five months after he was poisoned with the nerve agent Novichok. He returned despite being warned that he would be arrested.

The latest: Navalny was stopped at a customs checkpoint and led away alone by officers. He appeared to hug his wife goodbye, and his spokesman reports that his lawyer was not allowed to accompany him.

Mike Allen, author of AM
7 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Biden's "overwhelming force" doctrine

President-elect Biden arrives to introduce his science team in Wilmington yesterday. Photo: Kevin Lamarque/Reuters

President-elect Biden has ordered up a shock-and-awe campaign for his first days in office to signal, as dramatically as possible, the radical shift coming to America and global affairs, his advisers tell us. 

The plan, Part 1 ... Biden, as detailed in a "First Ten Days" memo from incoming chief of staff Ron Klain, plans to unleash executive orders, federal powers and speeches to shift to a stark, national plan for "100 million shots" in three months.

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