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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

Exclusive: White House meeting with members of Problem Solvers Caucus

Members of the Problem Solvers Caucus discuss the COVID-19 relief bill in December. Photo: Oliver Contreras/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Top White House officials will meet Wednesday with a bipartisan coalition of House lawmakers as the administration tries to enlist moderates to support the president's infrastructure proposal.

Why it matters: The meeting is something of an olive branch after President Biden's team courted groups of progressives to back the $2.2 trillion package.

1 hour ago - Health

The new vaccine threat is fear itself

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

The FDA’s decision to pause the use of Johnson & Johnson's coronavirus vaccine has set off a chain reaction of fear — about the safety of the vaccine, and about whether the FDA is overreacting — that's causing unnecessary drama just as the vaccine effort is finally picking up speed.

The big picture: Throughout the pandemic, the public and the media, and sometimes even regulators, have struggled to keep risks in perspective — to acknowledge them without exaggerating them, and to avoid downplaying them because other people will exaggerate them.

Cryptocurrency giant Coinbase heads to Wall Street

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

Coinbase, the country's largest cryptocurrency exchange, is expected to go public today at what could be a valuation north of $100 billion.

Why it matters: This gives crypto a Wall Street seal of legitimacy, after an early existence marred by ties to illicit goods.

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