The Belt and Road is having some underappreciated effects in Asia
A decade ago Xi Jinping, China’s leader, declared his intention to make a world-girdling web of infrastructure China’s gift to the planet. From the start, Southeast Asia was to serve as perhaps the main focus of what came to be called the Belt and Road Initiative (bri). The region of 690m people was China’s backyard. South-East Asia needed trillions of dollars of infrastructure and other development. China-centered supply chains increasingly ran through the ten-country Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). Some 60m-70m ethnic-Chinese citizens of South-East Asia, many of them successful businessmen, could help China’s mission.
Ten years on, there is no missing the wave of Chinese money that has broken over the region, bringing giant earth-moving machines, Chinese construction crews, Chinese business folk and diplomats, and not a few criminal chancers. Many bri projects have gone well, bringing roads, railway tracks, and power plants. In Cambodia, a new Phnom Penh-Sihanoukville expressway has cut the journey from the capital to the south coast from five hours to two.