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Map of world with Chinese flag superimposed on top with titles of media items related to the BRI in various languages in the background

Illustration by Giovana Fleck, used with permission.

As China expands and advances its interests as a global power, it is important to understand how it projects its ambitions in other countries. Chinese diplomacy took a key turn in 2013 when it announced its One Belt, One Road strategy, or “一带一路”. Now commonly known as the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), the strategy was enshrined in the country’s constitution in 2017, becoming, in the view of many commentators, the keystone of Chinese foreign policy.

Now active in dozens of countries, the Belt and Road Initiative focuses on infrastructure development, but also includes a significant soft power component. China has made no secret of its intent to shape global information environments for its own benefit. It has invested in massive surveillance and censorship at home, international broadcasting, foreign media, online/mobile platforms, state-supported marketing, and a global expansion of its communications technology companies. It has also provided support for other countries to adopt its approach to a “sovereign internet” using a mix of regulatory influence, technology transfer, and aggressive policy promotion in key multilateral international forums.

While the Belt and Road Initiative plays out across all continents, local societies and communities hold differing perceptions of its benefits and potential harms, despite China’s extensive public relations and propaganda effort to promote its aims.

Our investigation looks at the intersection of Chinese technology transfer, soft power, communications technology buildout, and public information. Working with local researchers and writers in a dozen countries, we explore the ways China advances narratives that bolster its drive for global power, and how local perspectives either support or counter China’s ambitions.

Over the next few months, we’ll be adding stories and details about the project to this page.

Visit the Civic Media Observatory main page.

Read the stories

Stories about China’s Belt & Road Initiative: Deal or steal?

China's reputation challenged by perceptions of low-quality projects and products in Ethiopia

In contrast to the official praise, the Ethiopian public is often critical about the quality of these projects, as well as Chinese products sold in Ethiopia.

Why are Czech elites being captured by Beijing narratives? 

The ties between outgoing president Zeman as well as economic relationships over the past few years, especially in the media, raise concerns about the public narrative around Sino-Czech relations.

Arabophone Chinese influencer divides public opinion in Egypt

Along with growing traffic to her social media platforms came a new tone in Wang's posts. What seemed as sincere patriotic pride, gave way to a seemingly targeted propaganda.

Is China exporting its surveillance state to Venezuela?

One of the largest Chinese defense companies has been pointed out for providing the Venezuelan government software to block access to the Internet and to spy on its detractors.

China in Ethiopia: Between a savior and an exploiter?

Whereas some online commentaries celebrate China’s help and contributions to Ethiopia, other discussions on Chinese projects tend to emphasize their exploitative features

Turkey’s Uyghur dilemma in the context of China’s Belt and Road Initiative

As economic ties between Ankara and Beijing strengthened, Turkey's policies on the treatment of Uyghurs in China weakened.

Chinese firms in Nigeria face widespread labour abuse allegations, tainting bilateral relationship

Nigerians in that company are "mandated to call their Chinese employers master or mistress. Male Nigerian workers are physically assaulted, while their female counterparts are sexually assaulted,” writes a whistleblower.

China as a cultural threat in Ethiopia: From food to cultural appropriation

Public interest in Chinese exotic eating habits and in potential appropriation of Ethiopian traditional culture speaks of the larger rifts in Sino-Ethiopian encounters

Chinese higher education programs attract increasing numbers of students from Kazakhstan

Education abroad and study exchanges have become instruments for the Chinese government to attract foreign students, especially from Kazakhstan. Does studying in China trigger support among Kazakhstani students?

Chinese soft power in Kyrgyzstan grows through culture and language

Still looking to publicize its language and culture in Central Asia, China is using the instrument of Confucius Institutes to strengthen its soft power in Kyrgyzstan

China-funded Kaliwa dam in the Philippines flagged for irregularities

"Indigenous Peoples should not be sacrificed on the altar of development aggression, which would just benefit big businesses and Chinese investors."

Diverging narratives on the Belt and Road Initiative in Greece and China

After years of investment in the port, information on the hurdles that China’s BRI is facing in Greece differs across the language of the media reporting it.

China's unfulfilled promise to develop Venezuela's mines

The Venezuelan and Chinese governments promoted the mining sector as a solution to Venezuela's oil dependence. Despite millionaire investments, the industry is far from its achieving its promise.

Turkey and China in the eastern Mediterranean: Partners or competitors?

China and Turkey continue to collaborate on their visions for trans-continental integration, though should Ankara's political and military ambitions increase, Beijing might reconsider its role as a reliable BRI partner. 

Cambodia’s China-funded mega dam linked to rights abuses and loss of fisheries

"Today, everything the dammed-up rivers provided – food, water, an income from fishing – is gone."

Venezuela and China: Strong bond or empty words?

Venezuelan authorities claim that the strategic partnership with China remains as strong as ever, but they have reaped little economic benefits from it since 2016.

Kanal Istanbul, Turkey's Middle Corridor, and the Belt and Road Initiative

The Middle Corridor, formally known as the Trans-Caspian East-West-Middle Corridor Initiative, reflects Turkey’s dream of building links to China via the Caucasus and Central Asia.

Chinese investments in Nigeria flourish on a Silk Road of corruption

The willingness of corrupt Chinese businesspeople to bribe equally fraudulent Nigerian government officials is rarely captured by the simplistic mutual understanding narrative pushed by Chinese diplomats. 

Dissecting the ‘win-win’ of Chinese investment in Greece

On the surface, Sino-Greek economic relations, largely centered around shipping, are seen as bilateral ‘win-win’. But this narrative becomes more complex if one examines Greek media and political actors.

China’s wavering COVID-19 vaccine diplomacy in Turkey

Turkey procured vaccines from China in December 2020, but delivery delays and negative perceptions of China-made vaccines are now making other sources more attractive. 

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