Belt and Road Initiative
For Launching the Largest Infrastructure Blitz the World Has Ever Seen—1,814 Projects and Counting (Most Influential Projects: #18)
China's Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region has benefited from increased trade from the Belt and Road Initiative.
OPPOSITE PAGE, PHOTO BY XINHUA/LU BOAN VIA GETTY IMAGES THIS PAGE, TOP PHOTO BY BAY ISMOYO/AFP/GETTY IMAGES, PORT PHOTO COURTESY OF INTERREG V-A ITALY–SLOVENIA PROGRAMME. EGYPT PHOTO COURTESY OF EGYPT'S STATE INFORMATION SYSTEM
From Russia to South Africa, Indonesia to Colombia, there's hardly a corner of the world left untouched by China's Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). Quite simply, it's the largest infrastructure program ever, with overall budget estimates hitting as high as US$8 trillion. Since officially launching it in 2013, China has poured investments into more than 60 countries that account for two-thirds of the global population.
The initiative harkens back to the Silk Road, the massive, continent-sprawling trade network that unfurled out of China over two millennia ago. With the modern mega-program, current President Xi Jinping wants China to gain new allies, build novel investment opportunities, expand into new markets and boost Chinese incomes.
“Development is always the key to solve any problems,” Xi said at a 2017 BRI summit. “So the construction of Belt and Road Initiative should focus on this fundamental issue of development, drive up growth potentials of participating countries, and achieve the economic integration, interaction and sharing.”
China stands to gain a lot. By 2018, the country had helped finance more than 40 energy pipelines in other countries, giving it ready access to valuable resources. It also pitched in on more than 200 bridges, roads and railways, securing better routes to move its goods. And it had a hand in funding nearly 200 power plants, adding a little extra to the portfolios of China's construction and equipment companies.
Most BRI projects aren't small, either. For instance, China has started construction or planned construction on three hydroelectric dams that will be among the biggest in the world. Given the scale and scope, risks abound—and the program has come under fire for saddling countries with debt. But that hasn't slowed China's efforts. Here's a look at some of the BRI's landmark projects:
Project: High-speed rail line
The US$6 billion initiative will slash total travel time from the country's capital of Jakarta to textile hub Bandung from three hours to 40 minutes. Project leaders estimate that development in satellite towns along the rail line will rake in US$18 billion.
Status: Under construction through 2021
Project: Port expansion
Location: Gwadar, Pakistan
China is placing particular emphasis on building up its closest neighbors, including Pakistan. In 2015, the government began funding the expansion of Pakistan's Gwadar Port, an integral part of the US$68 billion China-Pakistan Economic Corridor. It would link the two countries via transportation infrastructure and other energy and industrial developments. Gwadar's proximity to oil-rich countries will significantly reduce costs for China to acquire oil and gas.
Status: Under construction through 2045
Project: Upgrade an existing port
Location: Trieste, Italy
China's agreement in early 2019 with Italy on a range of initiatives could unlock access to mainland Europe. Italy, the first G7 nation to take part in BRI, is looking to redevelop Trieste's port in particular to scale up its shipping capacity. The project also gives China much greater access to move goods to landlocked countries, including Austria, Hungary, the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Serbia.
Project: High-speed rail line
In 2017, Panama became the first country in Latin America to sign on to the BRI. In addition to exploring a bridge over the Panama Canal, China conducted a feasibility study in 2019 on a 391-kilometer (243-mile) rail link between Panama City and David, a town near the Costa Rican border. Panama doesn't have a rail network outside of the Panama Canal Zone.
After some initial hesitation, Russia has fully embraced China's initiative, including the RUB594 billion Meridian Toll Highway, which will link Kazakhstan with Belarus via a 2,000-kilometer (1,242.7-mile) road through Russia. China is betting such a route will increase trade opportunities with the EU, a goal since the mid-2000s. The Meridian could cut transportation times by nearly a third.
Status: Under construction, expected completion by 2024
Project: Business district development
Cairo, Egypt is straining to accommodate its more than 20 million residents. So in 2018, the country broke ground on a new administrative capital 45 kilometers (28 miles) east of Cairo. BRI funding and the China State Construction Engineering Corp. are bringing the city's business district to life, overseeing the construction of more than 20 buildings—including a 385-meter (1,263-foot) skyscraper that will be Africa's tallest once complete.
Status: Under construction through 2022 or early 2023
There's no doubt that China's Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) is one of the most humongous and complex programs in the past 50 years. But the bewildering scope is only half the challenge. Everything from geopolitical opposition to managing hordes of stakeholders from dozens of supporting countries poses a potential roadblock. Yet there's also an incredible opportunity for enterprise project management offices (EPMOs) and their program and project managers to show their value and keep these projects on track.
In the end, BRI will only transform lives if teams can generate buy-in from those who oppose it. Public opposition against the China-Pak Economic Corridor, for instance, threatens to derail BRI in Pakistan. The United States and parts of the European Union also are putting up a fight. The U.S. and China are locked in a trade war, while U.S. and EU lobbyists are actively pressing countries to not sign on to BRI projects. With resistance everywhere, adding EPMO staff members well-versed in global politics and indigenous cultures can help curb the impact of obstruction.
—Abid Mustafa, author of In the Age of Turbulence: How to Make Executive PMOs Successful
PMI research shows project teams that draw from an array of perspectives and skillsets deliver powerful outcomes.