How the Belt and Road Gained Steam: Causes and Implications of China's Rise in Global Infrastructure
Western observers have raised concerns over the rise and now predominance of Chinese state-backed bilateral lending in international infrastructure development. These range from China's growing geopolitical influence to the increasingly unsustainable debt levels of some of the nations receiving investments as part of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). In fact the BRI today is simply the next phase of a decades-long shift in the infrastructure sector towards China and away from traditional western development lending institutions. In this study we observe the scale of this trend and its root causes in China's domestic and international development policies for infrastructure and the safeguards policies of western development programs. We use aggregate reporting on infrastructure lending and project-level case studies in nations that have transitioned from western institutions to the BRI. We highlight the need for reforms for China's lending programs, to increase transparency and the financial sustainability of projects, and for western development institutions to maintain environmental and social safeguards while still achieving their stated missions.