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.

BRI report coverFraming China's Belt and Road Initiative

Global Voices’ Civic Media Observatory research identifies and tracks key themes and narrative frames that emerge around events, trends and other phenomena, and explains the context and subtext of local, vernacular, and multilingual media.

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Following, find more than 50 stories about China's influence in a dozen countries, and visit the project's public dataset, built in Airtable and providing relational links and filters for study. The dataset offers numerous points of entry for curious readers and researchers interested in exploring relationships within the data. It features nuanced analysis of 124 narratives about the Belt and Road Initiative, an annotated and contextualized collection of 748 media items from 14 countries, as well as annotated sets of dominant themes and media sources.

Visit the Civic Media Observatory main page.

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