China Retools Vast Global Building Push Criticized as Bloated and Predatory

“The Belt and Road Initiative will make tactical adjustments, not strategic,” said Wang Jun, a former director of the Information Department at the China Center for International Economic Exchanges.

The initiative, originally billed as a trillion-dollar venture though trimmed back as the domestic economy weakens, is a pet project of Mr. Xi’s. He unveiled the idea in a speech at a university in Kazakhstan soon after assuming office in 2013.

China Tries to Put a Friendlier Face on Its Global Building Spree

Beijing is reshaping its plans for building a network of ports, rails and roads that enhance the country’s geopolitical ambitions, but it isn’t retreating from its vision.

An unfinished stretch of the Standard Gauge Railway outside Nairobi, Kenya, part of a Chinese railway project. New railways in Kenya and Ethiopia have failed to earn a profit (Credit: Andrew Renneisen for The New York Times)

BEIJING — It took only a week for China’s all-powerful President Xi Jinping to yield. Malaysia had publicly slammed China for vastly overcharging on a showcase rail project, canceling the deal.

In a rare admission of Chinese excess, Mr. Xi replied in a major speech last year that his prized global infrastructure program would be more cautious, more consultative. This month, China slashed the cost of the rail by one-third.

Broadly facing criticism about overpriced and superfluous projects, China is reshaping and retooling its grand infrastructure plan, known as the Belt and Road Initiative. But Beijing isn’t retreating from its vision to build a network of ports, rails and roads that puts China at the center of global trade and enhances its geopolitical ambitions.

Rather, China’s efforts are intended to present a friendlier face to global leaders, who are gathering this week in Beijing for a conference to mark the sixth year of the initiative. To show it’s a more responsible player, China is promising corruption-free, environmentally conscious ventures. It is also seeking advice from major multinational banks, asking other countries, such as Japan, to collaborate, and in some cases scaling back its projects…

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The East Coast Rail Link project in Bentong, Malaysia, part of China’s Belt and Road Initiative, an ambitious global infrastructure program. (Credit: Lauren DeCicca for The New York Times)

…Mr. Xi regards the program as so special that he directed it be written into the Communist Party Constitution. As he sees it, the creation of infrastructure abroad to sustain the flow of goods in and out of China — and possibly military gear in the future — is intrinsic to cementing the nation’s path to power and competing with the United States.


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The Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), also known as the One Belt One Road (OBOR) (Chinese: 一带一路) or the Silk Road Economic Belt and the 21st-century Maritime Silk Road (Chinese: 丝绸之路经济带和21世纪海上丝绸之路)


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