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China's President Xi Jinping and Tajikistan's President Emomali Rahmon at the Second Belt and Road Forum in Beijing in April 2019. Photo: Valery Sharifulin/TASS via Getty Images

The World Bank has released a study on China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) that predicts major economic benefits, but only if Beijing makes some even bigger course corrections.

The big picture: While the authors find that infrastructure can increase growth through trade and investment, these gains depend on a host of reforms such as greater transparency and data reporting — especially around debt, open procurement, and social and environmental standards. Essentially, the study advises China that success requires becoming more like the World Bank.

Details: The study focuses on the BRI's transportation projects, forecasting that they could lift 7.6 million people from extreme poverty (earnings below $1.90 a day) if successfully completed.

  • The world needs more infrastructure, especially developing countries in Asia, and it stands to benefit from anyone who provides it the right way.

Yes, but: Building infrastructure does not automatically create value, the study warns. Success depends on picking the right projects and delivering them effectively, otherwise they destroy more value than they create.

  • While Chinese officials sell the BRI as “win-win,” some partner countries, like Mongolia and Tajikistan, could lose out as the costs of infrastructure exceed the gains. They also face particularly high risks of default from BRI–related financing.
  • About half of BRI transportation projects are expected to provide little value, according to another recent World Bank study.

Where it stands: China likes the BRI just the way it is.

  • Part of the problem is that its state-owned enterprises are eager to build regardless of economic viability; having poured more concrete between 2011 and 2013 than the United States used during the entire 20th century, they have run out of things to build at home.
  • In the absence of transparency and effective oversight, these firms can bribe local officials in recipient countries to greenlight more and bigger projects.

Between the lines: China also faces a massive coordination challenge. Unlike efforts led by multilateral development banks, most of the BRI’s transportation corridors are defined only at the national level and do not name or prioritize individual cities and roadways. Without adequately defined scopes, these projects could squander resources.

The bottom line: The potential benefits the World Bank lays out are not unique to Chinese transportation projects. But China’s current approach to delivering infrastructure makes it less likely those benefits will materialize.

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

Go deeper

Updated 2 hours ago - World

HRW: Over 100 former Afghan security members dead or missing under Taliban rule

Members of the Taliban movement patrol Kabul's airport in September. Photo: Valery Sharifulin/TASS via Getty Images

The Taliban have "killed or forcibly disappeared" over 100 former members of Afghanistan's security forces since the group took power in August, a Human Rights Watch report published Tuesday found.

Why it matters: Former military members and officials from the ousted government, activists and other Taliban critics are facing peril amid executions driven by revenge — despite Taliban promises of an "amnesty" with no retributions, notes the New York Times, which first reported the news.

5 hours ago - World

Barbados becomes a republic, replacing U.K. queen with president

Combination images of Dame Sandra Mason, president of Barbados, and Britain's Prince Charles at her swearing-in ceremony in Bridgetown, Barbados, late Monday.

Barbados officially became a republic at midnight local time after Dame Sandra Mason was sworn in as the Caribbean nation's first president in a ceremony attended by the United Kingdom's Prince Charles.

Why it matters: Mason replaced Britain's Queen Elizabeth as head of state Tuesday — removing the country's final remaining colonial tie to the U.K. almost 400 years after the first British ships arrived in Barbados.

Right-wingers making McCarthy sweat for future Speaker post

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy stands with his Republican colleagues outside the House on Nov. 17. Photo: Stefani Reynolds/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Right-wing elements in the Republican Party are complicating House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy's attempts to become the next speaker of the House should the GOP take back the majority in 2022.

Why it matters: While McCarthy has worked carefully to build trust among the conservatives who tanked his chances at clinching the speakership in 2015, they're still circling ahead of the next Speaker vote in January 2023.