While the core focus of China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) is on traditional infrastructure deployments, it is evident that the Digital Silk Road is a key part of the overall BRI strategy, and China will leverage technology to increase its influence along the route.
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Southeast Asia is home to many of China’s most high-profile Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) projects, including Kyakpyu port in Myanmar, a high-speed railway in northern Laos, and now-stalled rail and pipeline projects in Malaysia. While these physical infrastructure projects have attracted widespread attention, China’s involvement in the region’s digital infrastructure has been far less examined despite holding the potential to have even greater strategic importance in the coming years.
China envisions a vast global network of trade, investment, and infrastructure that will bring the world closer to Beijing. To better understand how China’s vision is playing out on the ground, _The New York Times_ examined nearly 600 Chinese-financed projects and the driving forces behind them, citing data from the Reconnecting Asia Project.
Most countries along the BRI have urgent infrastructure development needs and many are considered too high-risk for traditional investors, the result being that their governments have been highly receptive to Beijing’s offers of financing, building, and operating infrastructure projects.
A close look at the characteristics of China’s port projects in the Indo-Pacific suggests that rather than resulting in “win-win” economic prosperity, they are generating political leverage, increasing Beijing’s military presence, and reshaping the strategic operating environment in China’s favor.