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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?

Are Turkish environmental groups alone in criticizing the Beijing-Ankara economic integration?

The Hunutlu coal-fired power plant is part of China's Belt and Road Initiative in Turkey, an economic and political cooperation program that Ankara joined in November 2015.

Is anti-Chinese sentiment in Kyrgyzstan strong enough to freeze a key Belt and Road Initiative project?

A logistics project in Kyrgyzstan, part of China's BRI infrastructure program, was poised to become a commercial hub in the heart of Eurasia. Despite the hype, it now seems stalled.

China’s Belt and Road megaproject in the Mediterranean: Was it the Greek shipping tycoons who sealed the deal?

In Sino-Greek relations, the dominant narrative runs that China is taking the lead by investing in Greece. But a more layered account of the events is often overlooked.

In Kyrgyzstan, an ultranationalist group thrives on rising anti-Chinese sentiment

Chinese enterprises are making home for themselves in Kyrgyzstan. Some parts of the Kyrgyz population see this trend as a threat.

How Sinophobia is instrumentalized in Kazakhstan as a form of oppositional politics

In Kazakhstan, Sinophobia is often a tool instrumentalized by protest organizers to mobilize people as a form of criticism of governmental policies

What a Kyrgyzstan oil refinery reveals about China's Belt and Road Initiative

"We tried to reach the mayor, arguing that the plant is harmful to the environment...We tried our best but nobody was listening to us."

Belt and Road Initiative projects ramp up Nigeria’s favourable perception of China

The BRI initiative enjoys a favourable perception because Nigeria has an infrastructure deficit that China is correcting. This programme will endure for some time in Nigeria. 

Indigenous people denounce Chinese oil giant's extractions in Peru's Amazon Forest

A coalition of non-governmental and indigenous organizations came together to hold their government and companies accountable

How the lack of Brazilian correspondents in China affects perceptions of both countries

Journalists Marcelo Ninio and Talita Fernandes discuss Brazilian perspectives on China.

Why Huawei was almost excluded from the 5G race in Brazil

Despite its two-decade history in Brazil, the Chinese tech giant's chance to compete for 5G development contracts was at one point vehemently opposed by the Bolsonaro government.

Greeks wage a court battle against Chinese-funded port that may poison the environment

Expansion of the Piraeus port will create a "subaquatic toxic landfill” at the expense of the area’s fragile ecosystems.

As Brazil increases exports to China, politicians play the blame game

"The problem is Brazil's current development model that turns it into a large farm," said Evandro Menezes de Carvalho, a specialist in Chinese law and international trade.

Is Bolsonaro's anti-China rhetoric fueling anti-Asian hate in Brazil?

Global Voices talked to five people of Chinese descent in Brazil. All said intolerance increased with the COVID-19 pandemic.

How COVID-19 ramped up a simmering hostility between Brazil and China

While governments around the world scrambled to secure vials of the COVID-19 vaccine, Bolsonaro refused to negotiate with drug companies, especially the Chinese ones.

New Chinese-led port project faces backlash from local residents and environmentalists in Peru

“Throughout the history of Peru, investments are located wherever they want, as long as they bring money, and the state or government allows this to happen”

COVID-19 vaccine in Africa: Caught between China’s soft-power diplomacy and the West’s vaccine nationalism, Part II 

Is it not hypocritical to heckle China for their soft-power vaccine diplomacy in Africa while Western governments conveniently pursue vaccine nationalism? 

COVID-19 vaccine in Africa: Caught between China’s soft-power diplomacy and the West’s vaccine nationalism, Part I

The storage of Chinese Sinovac’s CoronaVac and Sinopharm are more suited for Africa’s hot temperatures, unlike those produced in the West, which require deep-freezer temps. 

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