“One Belt, one Road”: The New Silk Road and the Chinese initiative for integration

What is the New Route of Silk?

The New Silk Road ─ designated Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), in English ─, is Chinese initiative proposed in 2013 pelo presidente Xi Jinping. Treated by media outlets as “One Belt, one Road” (the origin of the name if gave the association “Belt”With the original Silk Road; e “Road" the maritime area in which some of the negotiations / transactions will take place commercials). This proposal from the President of the People's Republic of China (RPC) aims at greater cooperation between the countries of the Asia Pacific axis, Europe and Africa, through development, exchange and incentive to investments in a wide range diversified range of economic and commercial sectors, such as Logistics, Infrastructure, Technology, among others.

About, the PRC already has established participation in investments and credits directed to countries like Russia, Indonesia, Pakistan and, on a smaller scale,  India and Japan. The African continent is already represented by about 13 countries, such as Angola, Algeria, Cameroon, Coast of the Ivory, Egypt, among others. Europe has been winning, From you, the attention from Xi Jinping, as shown by recent events, like the Chinese President's meeting with Italian Prime Minister, Giuseppe Conte, in 23 March 2019; and with the french president, Emmanuel Macron, three days after, This meeting was also attended by the German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, and the President of the European Commission, Jean Claude Junker.

Is important emphasize the five main priorities of the New Silk Road / BRI: 1) coordination of economic policies on low interest loans for the assistance from countries that receive investments in the infrastructure sector, Street BRI, so as not to harm and / or cause harmful interference to the economy domestic; 2) connectivity in infrastructure areas; 3) trade less susceptible to obstacles, through low tax barriers; 4) integration financial; 5) and incentives for connectivity between citizens of populations involved.

Although it is a project under development,  the BRI already presents surprising data. According to the World Bank, the PRC has already succeeded attract a group of 65 countries, or that is equivalent to 30% of global GDP and 62% of world population. THE Swiss credit estimates that the total investment of BRI for the next 5 years should run between $ 313 billions and $ 502 billion.

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Reassembling the Story: the inspiration from the Silk Road

The Silk Road The primary purpose was a network of trade routes that connected China and the Far East to what today is treated as the Middle East and Europe. She went established mainly during the Han Dynasty, from China, in the 2nd century B.C., connecting China's trade with the West.

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Such a geography of commercial transactions received the name of Silk Road due to the popularity of silk Chinese in the West. Yet, the variety of products marketed was much bigger, and included fruits, vegetables, grains, cattle, leather, tools, religious artifacts, artworks, precious metals, However, maybe yours most important vector:has been the exchange of religions, cultures and mores, with the consequent cultural miscegenation of the different peoples throughout of the Silk Road routes.

There is an update this scenario within the scope of the BRI initiative for offering credits and commercial loans in parallel with the exchange of knowledge and technologies; by the way, as objective the initiative. Both the old Silk Road and the current BRI corroborate, like this,  the corollary that the transmission of cultures always occurs in the midst of business transactions. This linked to structural development, intellectual and commercial within the scope of the BRI, that have great potential to become a factor important BRI. Such a scenario could transfer the hegemony of trade international for the Asia Pacific area, as it has already been,by the way, signaled by positive results structural and economic development of countries in the region.

How BRI comes gaining space on the international stage: the projects

It is important to analyze some projects carried out by the countries adhering to the Initiative. The importance given by the PRC to these plans can be understood as a first approach BRI's strategic: capture the interest of other countries, as well as – and mainly – demonstrate the potential of Chinese projects and the China's ability to, by itself, consolidate itself as as a superpower economic-commercial. This implies that, through the Initiative, the PRC comes seeking to raise its soft-power.

As an example, cite the elaboration of a massive project between the People's Republic of China and the Pakistan for the construction of a gas pipeline from the Port of Gwadar, at the Pakistani soil, towards Kashgar, in the People's Republic of China. It is important to highlight the greatness of such a project in relation to BRI. THE idea was first announced in the year 2013, when the then Prime Minister of Pakistan, Nawaz Sharif met with Chinese Prime Minister, Li Keqiang, in the chinese capital. The meeting reinforced the the parties' intention to connect the port of Gwadar,  Chinese investment,through a road infrastructure, railway and pipeline. The project, at time, an approximate implementation period of 5 years and a total of investments – far from what is normally expected for planning similar –  around US $ 10 a 20 billion.

The reformulation of this project for the present day received another name: Economic Corridor China-Pakistan (CPEC), officially launched in April 2015 during the visit of President Xi Jinping to Pakistan. CPEC today represents a milestone in the relationship between the two countries in the energy development sector, and stipulates as capital to be spent approximately US $ 46 billion. The Chinese and Pakistani governments have also drawn up a “Long Term Plan Deadline", that started in the year of 2017, for completion by 2030. In this new context the costs of the project amounted to US $ 62 billion.

It is below an overview of the exposed project. The image can be found at: https://www.merics.org/en/bri-tracker/the-bri-in-pakistan:

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In the image above it is possible to note the presence of nuclear power plants, fossil fuel and renewable energy. In addition, airports are planned, ports, an urban public transport network and, still, cable transmission networks optical fiber; transmission lines, plus a gas pipeline. Try, indeed, of a project with different approaches; Yet, are projects aimed at energy sector that deserved greater focus, both in planning and in cost budget terms. In this regard, it is estimated that power plants energy correspond to 90% of the total cost of all projects. This coincides with the issue of chronic energy scarcity 一 for both the supply industries, as for connectivity – in China from 2020.

The database of MERICS (Mercator Institute for China Studies) BRI, the official studies website that accompanies and informs BRI's projects, found that the Pakistan absorbed most of the return on Chinese investment in projects completed in the three years following the implementation of CPEC. As for projects, the topic is still in the process of being implemented. Were allocated more than $ 15 billion in Foreign Direct Investment / FDI and loans Chinese for massive projects.

CPEC projects are not generating benefits only for Pakistan: the People's Republic of China will benefit from the expansion of the capital raised with the installation of Chinese companies in Pakistani territory, beyond the use of the Chinese country brand as a currency for trading with other countries, or rather, how soft-power. And the People's Republic of China and Pakistan relationship really has the duality of a coin: a bargaining chip: if the PRC enters economic investments massive is because it aims to guarantee not only the Pakistani market for si, but also preserving strategic advantages over India, power that also seeks to expand its influence on the Continent. The Pakistan-India territorial conflicts coupled with Pakistan's low capacity attracting foreign investment are, therefore, a tool used by China in order to maintain its economic-commercial influence.

            Another vector for increasing Chinese presence in Asia is the Western Economic Corridor (or EEC, in the acronym in English) what, according to MERICS BRI, aims to implement projects, initially, in three provinces of Thailand: Chachoengsao, Chonburi e Rayong. Look-for, in this case, expand the capacities of each of these provinces in areas such as communication, transport and infrastructure development, mainly, as a way to improve the capacity of the countries involved raise the necessary capital for the development of projects in the sectors described above, rather than loans for assistance policies, for example, what would end, somehow,leading countries to a higher level of subservience to chinese investments.

The table below presents an overview of the area covered by EEC:

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            THE optimism about EEC is great. These projects are considered to boost socio-economic development and will encourage competitiveness and regional integration in the commercial sphere. This is because an infrastructure efficient generates efficient trade, since training - linked to the dynamics of production, business transactions and fundraising - is the key point that Thailand intends to conquer for itself.  Although these processes progress and that the results have not been effective,, the EEC infant already managed to channel the attention of the Chinese towards a more ambitious project. what is BRI.

The Chinese protagonism in the New Silk Road is being formalized in several ways. According to the EEC Labor Administration, two thousand Chinese workers with high level of specialization have already been present, in the fourth quarter of 2018, in the Chachoengsao provinces region, Chonburi e Rayong. For another side, statistics from the “Investment Council” (BOI) Chinese indicate that already beginning of 2016 more of 80 companies in the People's Republic of China have installed factories, research and operations centers in the Industrial Zone Rayong Thai-Chinese; with investments in the order of US $ 30 billion.

 Nowadays, the New Route Initiative Seda is focusing PRC-Thailand relations on building the first country's high-speed rail network. It will link Thailand to Laos and in Kunming province, in southwest China. The second fastest mesh Thai railway will connect the capital Bangkok to the Corridor region Western Economic / EEC. The competent authorities in Thailand believe that it will contribute to the integration of the EEC into the BRI rail project in the parents.

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A Belt and Road Initiative in Europe: the initiative 16+1

            The initiative 16+1 reflects the ambition of People's Republic of China to intensify and expand their cooperation and interaction with some of the European Union / EU Member States and the Balkan Peninsula. This plan comprises the following countries: Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Macedonia, Montenegro, Poland, Romania, Czech Republic and Serbia, who already intended, develop projects in the investment areas, infrastructure, transport, finances, Sciences, education and culture with China.. However, it decided to focus initially on three areas of great potential: infrastructure, technology and what is called “green technology”.

            THE Initiative 16+1 has already been the stage for 5 Domes: the first, no year of 2012, held in Warsaw (Poland), moment when the so-called “Twelve Measures to Promote Friendly Cooperation with Central European Countries and Eastern", document that established the initial format of the composition of 16+1. In 2013, another summit meeting was held in Bucharest (Romania) then by Belgrade (Serbia), in 2014; e Suzhou (China Popular Republic), in 2015. A 5th Dome (also called, in free translation, “5th Meeting of Heads of Government of Central and Eastern European Countries and China ”) took place in Latvia, no year of 2016.

            THE most recent Summit material is available on the official website of the “Initiative 16 + 1 ”and addresses guidelines such as food export bottlenecks; e-commerce, digital marketing e branding, beyond the question of ownership intellectual.

The “BRI brand” in cooperation between 16+1

"THE growth potential through Chinese infrastructure investments in Central and south-eastern Europe along the "Balkan Silk Road", treated by Dr. Jens Bastian, “European Bank for Reconstruction and Development” / EBRD, in a report published in July 2017, brings a coherent and view of the interaction of the People's Republic of China with the Balkan countries. The author introduces his research with a concise explanation of what the media treats by “Rota Balkan Region of the New Silk Road ”and soon exposes some clippings of the negotiations and projects being carried out between three of the sixteen countries in the region, participating in the “16 + 1 Initiative”.

The outcome of report brings a lifting of barriers to the Balkan countries in the BRI and considerations about what he addressed as “priorities of the New Silk Road Initiative ”. The analysis of this excerpt will be based on Dr's considerations. Jens Bastian in that report.

            THE called the Balkan Silk Road runs from Beijing to Athens and connects Belgrade, Sarajevo, Skopje, Budapest and Tirana to other capitals of the Balkan Peninsula. It is a transport route and a logistical corridor that the People's Republic of China started to establish in Balkan region, no - scope of BRI. The route starts with the main investment of the initiative in the Greek port of Piraeus, the first big “hub” of containers for ships entering the Mediterranean from the Suez Canal. This is also the southeastern region Europe that has been at the center of EBRD activities for the past 25 years. The bank has already been involved with Chinese companies and authorities throughout of the Balkan Silk Road. This participation has been defined as ”a need to carefully assess the opportunities and challenges brought about for the appearance of this new and important project in the region ”.

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            THE Chinese presence, as Bastian commented, manifests itself through: investments in Member States and non-EU members, through opening bank branches in the Balkan region; granting interest loans below market level; the acquisition of ports; and lending for road construction, bridges and the renewal of power plants to countries in southeastern Europe,.

Such a policy is welcome by many of these countries, which are not normally destinations privileged investments or who face limitations on loans part of the private sector. Yet, Bastian warns of growing dependency that will be established in relation to Chinese investments, besides a possible and subsequent substantial contracting of debts, giving rise to what could become a complex dependency on Chinese capital.

It's latent, also, The concerns of some European companies regarding the transparency of their chinese companies. This concern became noticeable in the Belt and Road Forum, in May 2017, when several EU Member States refused to sign a commercial statement proposed by the Chinese. Such a refusal was based on the absence of references on the transparency of such companies, as well as the lack of open public tenders, and the lack of access reciprocal to markets.  

It is undeniable that the pessimism and apprehension on the European side at China's attempt to win space in Europe ー through an abrupt entry, what drops interest on loans and strengthens your soft power with the installation of Chinese companies ー acts as a barrier to entry Chinese incentives through BRI. This is because the pessimism of foreign investors hampers the proper introduction of capital and leads to the formalization of protectionist measures in order to prioritize the domestic trade, at the expense of the outside.

In according to data compiled by the European Commission and the statistical agency from Kosovo, the total volume of trade between China and some Western Balkan economies reached the amount of 3,3 billion euros in 2015 e 2016. Serbia represented almost half of that total volume. And China was the third largest Bosnia and Herzegovina's trading partner, Macedonia's fourth, of Serbia and Kosovo, the second in Albania, and the third of Montenegro.

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Greece: the "mold" for BRI's entry into Europe

In February 2017, the CEO of the China Development Bank (CDB), Hu Huaibang, announced the intention to expand the bank's presence in Greece, mainly through the financing of infrastructure projects in the sector power. A Memorandum of Understanding / MoU between the Central Bank of Greece and the CBD had already been reached in July 2016. The MoU provides for the promotion of bilateral retail and investment banking services. CEO Hu noted that the CDB had created special financing funds for projects of business development in several European countries.

The document creates financing mechanisms for the implementation of a cooperation project strategic signed, in October 2016, enter in China Machinery Engineering Corporation (CMEC) and the Greek state-owned company Public Power Corporation (PPC, initials emgrego, DEH). The CBD would provide up to € 1 billion for infrastructure projects in lignite mining operations conducted by PPC in Greece (how, for example, the Meliti project 1, in Florina).

The financial contribution at a container port terminal represented a milestone that demonstrates European ambitions regarding Beijing, with big implications over time, not only in the port of Piraeus, but also in neighboring countries. THE magnitude of this project will serve to stimulate similar initiatives of cooperation between Sino-Greek companies, with expansion to the energy sectors neighboring Balkan countries: a “pilot test” of great importance to be replicated and readapted into similar strategies, since Piraeus is in the path of vessels coming from the Suez Canal.

This process of “anchoring” is in the early stages of realization, but already served as a “pilot test” to stimulate subsequent projects and attract investment in sectors other than sea ports and container transport. In the context of BRI's strategy for Greece, priority areas will continue to be port transport infrastructure, logistics and energy, sectors that are starting to attract new groups of Chinese investors, like the Dalian Wanda Group Co it's at Greenland Holdings Corp., that are expanding their performance for other sectors, for example, tourism, commercial real estate, insurance companies and banking services, both in Greece and beyond.

  • Serbia

Cooperation economic situation of the People's Republic of China with Serbia has expanded significantly since the signing of a strategic partnership agreement, in 2009, which included investments in the area of ​​infrastructure. Mainly focused on projects in the transport sector, this partnership received an extensive financing from several Chinese state-owned banks.

THE Serbian market, as a whole, is considerably small and is inserted in a landlocked country. Yet, is an attractive partner for the People's Republic of China for having trade agreements with the European Union, Turkey and Russia, mainly. Serbia also enjoys a level of political stability that not easily found among its neighbors.

The main Chinese contribution through BRI is to facilitate commercial connections and loan systems in southeastern Europe. Analyzing the point of view of Chinese investors and political authorities along the Route of Balkan silk, Bastian verified that this cooperation would bring gains simultaneous for both parties (what Anglophones would call win-win): with the granting of loans at preferential rates, that will feed the innovations in the area of ​​infrastructure and the consequent increase in opportunities this way., Serbia would have its development process guaranteed by the Chinese.

The importance of Serbia for Chinese BRI has been repeated emphatically by President Xi Jinping. On his most recent visit to the country, in June 2016, him reiterated the importance of the country as a “protagonist in the cooperation People's Republic of China and Central and Eastern Europe. ” As a means of endorse and reaffirm such statements, Beijing is in the process of becoming a major financier of infrastructure projects in Serbia.

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The risks in the midst of benefits: the Chinese advance in Europe

Dr. Jens Bastian, as previously said, also reflects in his report the concern growing number of Europeans in the face of the “Chinese advance” in Europe. The disparity in Balkan countries' dependence on Chinese economic incentives, as well as the growing presence of facilities from the People's Republic of China, end up creating what the author calls “trade imbalances” between the parties involved along the Balkan Silk Road.

Such concern is verified, in quantitative data, by the deficit in Serbia's trade balance with the PRC in the first half of 2016: the import of Chinese goods was in around $ 773 millions, while exports were limited to US $ 12 millions. In addition to this, in social terms, unions, employers' associations, civil society organizations, and even regulatory authorities in the countries along the Balkan Silk Road, called for “greater monitoring of Chinese investments, who risk creating trade imbalances and potential dependence on loans and credits from the People's Republic ”. This intensified the questioning by the Balkan Europeans, mainly, as for the need to review the survey of relevant sectors in technology, mainly those who are considered “protected” from acquisitions foreign. This debate ー which is constantly being discussed in Germany and Greece ー basically consists of reevaluating the and how much can still be considered "immune" to Chinese influences.

This debate raises protectionist roots issues and includes the recurrent issue of clusters industrial or manufacturing, and how they can be expanded, financed and regulated vis-a-vis the growing interest of Chinese investors, what hitherto have been treated as a synonym for “loss of influence zone European commercial activity on the European continent ”.

            As consequence, the question arises of creating potential barriers to the entry of Chinese companies in Europe, simultaneously to the demand of governments and companies of European origin ー or installed there ー to reduce barriers for foreign investors in the Republic People of China. Legally, the so-called “fundamental financial barriers” (key financial barriers) consist of the “claim that acquisitions and Chinese investments are subsidized by the State, what weakens the competitors, in selected sectors ”. European Union delegations in Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Macedonia noted this practice in carrying out preferential lending by Chinese state-owned banks that are not included in a process of public legitimation, that is, fail to comply with transparent trade and negotiation measures, provided for in national laws.  

            Meanwhile, the vision of the countries of the Balkan Peninsula region, both in Belgrade, Sarajevo as in Skopje, is that they receive so little foreign direct investment (IEDs) of the rest of Europe, that those coming from the People's Republic of China end up becoming even more attractive. An alignment of these countries with the People's Republic of China, therefore, ends up not only becoming necessary but also the only option to the Balkans on the issue of massive FDI uptake.

            Bastian concludes that, in general, there is “a certain disconnect in the list of investments China's prospective prospects in individual countries with respect to the effective agreed financing, both in the form of mature projects and start of work on the ground ”; that is, much of what is punctuated as a plan goals often does not correspond to the real applicability and legitimacy of the process. Countless projects exist, but do not receive the financial contribution necessary to take effect.

 This raises the issue of substance versus rhetoric, the political instrumentalization of Chinese activities and the lack of coherent communication policies ”. For the author, there is an inconsistency with respect to the elaboration of the “theory” and its applicability in practice. Such a statement, however, is not fully confirmed, since the BRI is still a mature project. In addition to this, the real intentions from the People's Republic of China to Europe and BRI, as a whole, are, per hour, a "form" for a process that no one has yet managed to evaluate in its fullness - and consequences -, nor interpret.

Xi Jinping's China in Italy

            The Italian Prime Minister, Joseph With you, and the chinese president, Xi Jinping, met in the last 23 March, in Pomegranate. This meeting resulted in the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding not binding, that could lead Italy to participate in BRI. Understandings resulted in the signing of twenty-nine agreements, in various sectors, that corresponded to a value of € 2,5 billion.

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 This meeting triggered, however, reactions pessimists, especially among members of the European Union, the example of Dutch Prime Minister, Mark Rutte, that warned Italy against “Naivety” in hosting the meeting with Xi Jinping: “It is necessary to take into account possibility of the People's Republic of China, through these policies, also want to pursue some of your national interests ”. Such a speech, also replicated more discreetly by the United States, it worked like an understatement for the belief ー that also affects a portion significant increase in the membership of the European Union ー that the People of China, liderada por Xi Jinping, come to instrumentalize your yearning to strengthen its political and strategic-commercial influence in the West.

            OR Italian eurocetic party, “Five Star Movement”, of ideology of far right, who has been in power since June last year, did not delay in explain his position regarding the possibility of aligning himself with Xi Jinping and BRI. Stop or party, the agreement will “revive Italy's stagnant economy, attract necessary investments to Italy's ports and infrastructure and boost its exports to the lucrative Chinese market ”. The members of the “Movement Five Stars ”also did not hesitate to reject European concerns, and in qualifying them as “hypocrites”, particularly because several states European members have already collaborated, somehow, with BRI, the example of Duisburg, in Germany, which has become a major commercial center thanks to its rail connection with the PRC.

            In counterpoint, critics of the Italy-BRI proposal stress that the government Italian failed to consult the European Union and the USA and was ineffective in investigate geopolitical issues regarding the attitudes of the People's Republic of China. However,, there is a view that the European Union's aversion, in this case, the bloc's failure to present a strategy common with respect to the People's Republic of China, that is favorable to all its Member States. In short, the self-declaration that the other countries Europeans were unable to present themselves as attractive trading partners generated embarrassment in the face of the Chinese option to turn around at first to Italy, and then to France, how will it look to follow.

Xi Jinping e Emmanuel Macron: a second BRI step in Europe?

            THE Xi Jinping's second tour of Europe took place three days after the meeting with the Italian Prime Minister. The day 26 March 2019 registered the Xi Jinping's first meeting with the French president, Emmanuel Macron. THE meeting, also attended by the German Chancellor, Angela Merkel and the President of the European Commission, Jean Claude Junker, culminated in the formalization fifteen commercial operations between the People's Republic of China and France, in the value of US $ 63,6 billion, which include contracts in the sectors renewable energy, transport and banking.

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            At the however, it is worth emphasizing that Macron did not formalize the adhesion to the BRI project, with the statement that “cooperation on a‘ Silk Road ’would have to work in both directions ”.  Facing this, it can be inferred that the president French agrees that BRI has so far been a one-way street, is that its benefits are not yet proportionate to the efforts of each side. The fact that the contributions of the parties involved in the negotiations in the context of BRI have not yet reached a uniform character, the Initiative still not attractive to Macron, how was it for Conte. On the other hand, The Junker and Merkel's participation in the meeting could mean that France is supporting the approval of the European Union and that of the wealthiest state in Europe, The Germany. Judging by the outcome of the meeting, BRI will have to wait to capture France's attention, what, mainly, in the Macron government, it is very committed to the wishes of the European Union.

These first official contacts that took place in the two meetings of the Chinese president on the ground European are not exceptionally unique. Segundo Melissa Conley Tyler, associate of the Australian Institute of International Affairs, it will be just one a matter of time before more European countries join the BRI, encouraged for your “huge economic benefits”.

New Beginnings: the 2nd Summit of the New Silk Road

            THE II New Silk Road Summit, held in Beijing, not last 26 of April, in that “green economy” and “zero tolerance” issues were raised, said with the presence of almost 40 world leaders, among them the Russian president Vladimir Putin,

            Disputed by the Initiative skeptics group ー the most striking of them the President american, Donald Trump, who called BRI a “vain project” and criticized the Italy for having “strayed from the group of large economies to ally itself with the Chinese program ”ー, Xi Jinping countered criticism through the proposal to carry out sustainable environmental projects, in what was acclaimed by a group of 12 foreign banks and 13 of Chinese origin ー including those from Hong Kong ー, who agreed to adopt green principles to invest in works under the program. Some of these planned projects, However, such as dams and power plants coal power, are still considered harmful to the environment.

            Xi Jinping made use of the speech that negotiations from now on will be guided by transparency, intolerance and the deterrence of corruption (what was treated by “zero tolerance”) to counter the criticisms of BRI. .

            THE New Silk Road and South America

            On the Wednesday before Summit, the Chinese ambassador in Lima (Peru) revealed that Peru will be the first South American country to join BRI, which means it will be the country that will correspond to the PRC's gateway to the Americas, and the expansion of another stretch in this great Chinese belt.

            A BRI, now treated as a great vehicle for propaganda of the expected - and “feared” – Chinese commercial hegemony in the world, may prove to be the first pillar for many other major Chinese projects in all over the world. BRI's instrumentality may turn out to be a concert, ruled countries adhered to the project, that are gradually helping the Republic People's Republic of China to redesign a new integration-oriented world order. A BRI, with its ability to generate and attract multilateral trade relations and cooperation, is giving signs that it will certainly move out of the position of a simple initiative to become a large - and important - chain of international cooperation.

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From São Paulo, is an International Relations student at ESPM-SP. Has great appreciation for the culture and historical richness of Asia; for reading from an early age and a newly acquired taste for writing that has been developing more and more. Great dream to travel the world and learn a little about the uniqueness of each country that makes it up.