Does China’s Belt and Road Initiative Challenge the Liberal, Rules-Based Order?
Rising powers like China are frequently depicted as posing a significant challenge to prevailing, Western-designed norms of global governance. Unsurprisingly, China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) has been described as an assertive grand strategy bent on reconstituting regional or even global order with new governance ideas, norms and rules. Conversely, this paper argues that BRI’s challenge to existing global norms will mostly be unintentional. Through an analysis of key policy documents, it demonstrates that the BRI’s normative content is pro-market and pluralist, failing to attack or present anything like a systematic alternative to the existing liberal order. Nonetheless, aspects of BRI’s implementation will challenge prevailing global governance norms, particularly those relating to investment, aid, and social and environmental protection—but mostly by accident, not design. This is due to the fragmented governance of BRI inside China. Accordingly, BRI will likely erode established norms without offering any coherent alternative.
KeywordsChina Belt and Road Initiative Norms Rules-based international order State transformation
I am grateful to Zhou Yuping, Yang Kejia and especially Ryan Smith for excellent research assistance, and to Shahar Hameiri, participants in the Fudan conference on The Normative Basis of Global Governance, particularly Tim Dunne, and the journal’s anonymous reviewers for feedback on earlier drafts. Special thanks to Lin Xi.
Australian Research Council Discovery Project DP1701102647 financed the research underpinning this article.
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