Chinese President Xi Jinping prepares to speak during a May 2017 Belt and Road Initiative forum at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing. The initiative is one of the biggest geoeconomic developments of the 21st century.
(WU HONG-Pool/Getty Images)
On Sept. 7, 2013, in a speech at Nazarbayev University in Astana, Kazakhstan, Chinese President Xi Jinping announced the launch of the One Belt One Road initiative, now widely referred to as the Belt and Road Initiative. This massive connectivity project, Xi said, would revive for the 21st century the ancient Silk Roads linking China to the wider world. The initiative commits a staggering $4-8 trillion (depending on how broadly the project is defined) to fill Asia's infrastructure gap.
Few dispute that this is one of the biggest geoeconomic developments of the early 21st century, but there is less agreement on what it means. China's state-run Xinhua News Agency calls the Belt and Road Initiative "a bid to enhance regional connectivity and embrace a brighter future." Critics from Malaysia and India to the United States, however, have seen in it everything from neocolonialism and debt bondage to a cunning way to...