In an article for the ASEAN Studies Center, 2018-19 Luce Scholar Matthew LoCastro outlines the pros and cons of China’s Belt and Road Initiative on ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) member states. While the initiative has the potential to reduce poverty and bolster trade, LoCastro cautions that China’s goal is to strengthen its international influence, and economic gains could come at the cost of the region’s political and economic sovereignty, physical security, and commitment to protecting human rights.
LoCastro spent his Luce year working at the Economic Research Institute for ASEAN and East Asia (ERIA) in Jakarta where he helped produce a comprehensive progress report on infrastructure projects in the Comprehensive Asian Development Plan 2.0.
The Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), also known as One Belt One Road (OBOR), is one of the most prominent and one of the most shrouded global development initiatives in modern history. With estimated investments of about US$150 billion over the next decade with a total price tag ranging from US$1 trillion to US$4 trillion, BRI still remains only a singular part of China’s larger desire to invest, connect, and craft a sphere of influence, or as President Xi describes it, “a community of common destiny,” across Asia.
As of 2018, China has funded 96 projects across South East Asia. China’s projects, a variety of roads, railroads, ports, power plants, and other infrastructure projects have provided insight into China’s grand strategy. ASEAN member states will have to determine if China’s investments and influence will support or disrupt ASEAN’s commitments to resiliency and innovation within the realm of its socio-cultural, economic, and political/security pillars outlined in the ASEAN 2025: Forging Ahead Together. As with many investment and economic development initiatives, ASEAN members can expect tangible benefits aligned with the ASEAN development framework but should ultimately air caution to China’s advances due to long term and deeply embedded costs.