The Belt and Road: China’s Path to Power in Asia

“If a country cannot provide help for developing countries, [they] should at least refrain from obstructing others from assisting these developing countries.” 

This is the response of Ambassador Hou Yanqi, to international criticism of the extension of the BRI (Belt and Road initiative) into Nepal. Of course, there is truth to Yanqi’s words; Nepal suffers from a difficult geography, with significant issues caused by water-flow from mountain glaciers, monsoon waters and rough, mountainous terrain. The complexities caused by these issues are a significant hindrance to the development of Nepalese economic power. Furthermore, the cost of dealing with these issues, in making resilient infrastructure, building bridges and constructing tunnels, compounds these issues. As a consequence, Nepal needs a high level of capital in order to be able to overcome these challenges. Capital which is now being offered to them by the Chinese.

The value of infrastructure projects in Nepal cannot be overstated; consider that the construction of the Kathmandu-Kulekhani-Hetauda Tunnel (HKKT) is predicted to cut travel times from Hetauda to Kathmandu from eight to six hours down to one hour, and that the major issue with its construction was the inability of NPBCL to generate sufficient capital domestically or from international sources to fund the project. In March, the Himalyan Times reported that Power China is planning to fund 90% of the costs of the project, a move in line with the wider context of investment in Nepal as a consequence of the expansion of the BRI. While UK-based consultant IMC Worldwide played a role in generating engineering reports for the project and Britain is attempting to play a role through the Global Learning program and foreign aid, our involvement in Nepal is woefully lacking. It is Chinese capital which is providing the impetus to large-scale infrastructure development in Nepal and elsewhere in Asia.  Furthermore, as part of the BRI a high-speed rail network from Bangkok to Nong Khai is also in the works, and a link from their to Vientiane and Kunming; a bold project which promises to link Thailand, Laos and China by direct rail connections. As a consequence it is the PRC, not to UK or USA who is taking the initiative in developing and integrating the economies of Asia.

Not only is this a great loss of opportunity for British firms, but this Chinese development does not come strings free. The BRI is but the first stage in a strategic expansion across Asia, and where the Chinese investment has gone, the PLA has followed. The Djibouti-Ethiopia railway network came immediately after the PRC was allowed to establish a naval base in the region, and the same pattern has been followed with the establishment of PLA military facilities in Cambodia. It is evident that China’s global investment drive is tied up in its military ambitions.

The concern of the Conservatives in this matter should be manifest. With the PRC still occupying Tibet and asserting its will in the South China Sea, our party must consider the strategic risks of this emerging situation. If we neglect our role in the developing world, we might not be able to reverse the consequences.


Sam Ruaux (Committee Member, St. Hugh's College) is an undergraduate in his first year of studying Archaeology and Anthropology.