The Menlo Roundtable

From Made in China to Made by China: Economic and Geopolitical Implications of the Belt and Road Initiative

“I cannot recognize the streets where I grew up!” To my mother, Danielle Xu, today’s Hangzhou is nothing like the lakeside retreat of her childhood.

Two-story homes and quiet streets have been demolished and turned into luxurious modern buildings and a bustling metropolis. The city, dubbed the “Silicon Valley of China,” is now home to the Alibaba Group, Taobao, and Ant Financial. As evidenced by my mother, and by the city of Hangzhou, the China of today is nothing like the China she grew up in during the Cultural Revolution of the 1960s. Fueled by President Deng Xiaoping’s 改革开放, the Chinese Economic Reform or “Opening of China,” the country grew at an unprecedented rate. However, while President Deng prioritized stable and peaceful relationships with other countries to achieve internal economic development and integration, President Xi Jinping seems to place a greater emphasis upon using economic means in the pursuit of security goals of territorial protection and preserving domestic order. Economic diplomacy has become a more prominent feature of China’s foreign policy with Beijing taking on a more proactive leadership to expand trade and investment frameworks and exercise greater international influence. This new economic and political assertion manifests itself as the 2013 Belt and Road Initiative, an ambitious strategy that encompasses the building of a Silk Road Economic Belt and a 21st Century Maritime Silk Road.