Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) Blues: Powering BRI Research Back on Track to Avoid Choppy Seas

Jean-Marc F. Blanchard
Publication Date: 
March 5th, 2021
This piece examines and critiques the massive literature on China’s ambitious Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). It details how research currently seems stuck on the road to nowhere. In addition, it identifies a number of the potholes that collective research endeavors are hitting such as that they are poorly synchronized. It also stresses that lines of analysis are proliferating rather than optimizing, with studies broadening in thematic coverage, rather than becoming deeper. It points out that BRI participants are regularly related to the role of a bit player in many analyses and research often is disconnected from other literatures. Among other things, this article recommends analysts focus on the Maritime Silk Road Initiative (MSRI) or Silk Road Economic Belt (SREB) in specific regions or countries. It also argues for a research core that focuses on the implementation issue (i.e., the issue of MSRI and SREB project implementation), project effects (i.e., the economic and political costs and benefits of projects), and the translation issue (i.e., the domestic and foreign policy effects of
projects) and does work that goes beyond the usual suspects. On a related note, research need to identify, more precisely, participants and projects, undertake causal analysis, and take into account countervailing factors. Furthermore, studies need to make more extensive use of the Chinese foreign policy literature. Moreover, works examining subjects like soft power need to improve variable conceptualization and operationalization and deliver more nuanced analyses. Finally, studies, especially by area specialists, should take the area, not the China, perspective.
*****This publication originally appeared in Journal of Chinese Political Science, Vol. 26, No. 1 (March), pp. 235-255 (