The Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) is a combination of two initiatives: a 21st Century Maritime Silk Road and a Silk Road Economic Belt. Both initiatives were announced by President Xi Jinping in 2013. It is a multi-decade initiative that will reshape China’s commercial engagement with the world. The initiative will nurture China’s multinational champions; build infrastructure across Asia, Africa, Europe and the Middle East; and create new markets for Chinese and foreign products. It is the next stage in China’s efforts to “Go Global” and expand its commercial and political influence.

The BRI is better understood as a mission statement rather than a policy document, since it lacks a list of member countries and a precise definition of what a BRI project is. The initiative may, however, develop a more structured form over time, but for now, the initiative simply recognises that China needs to both strengthen its engagement with the Silk Road region, home to two-thirds of the world’s population and half its GDP, as well as assume a leadership role.

The BRI does have broad strategic aims; the most important one for foreign companies being China’s ambition to build world-class companies, which will be an extension of the 1990s “Go Global” policy. The Chinese government also expects that BRI will support industrial restructuring as Chinese companies learn to compete on the global stage, adopting international best practice, acquiring world-class technologies, and building scale in foreign markets.