The Awakening of The Giant: Is China using the Belt and Road Initiative as a Neo-Colonial Tool in the Indo-Pacific Region?

Simran Singh
Symbiosis School for Liberal Arts


This paper attempts to explore the question of whether China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) acts as a multifaceted instrument of neo-colonialism, which has been adopted by the country to pursue its long-term economic, political and military interests in Africa and Asia. Since the launch of China’s signature foreign policy project is fairly recent, its impact on the collaborating countries in the context of neo-colonialism remains understudied. Although China is promoting the initiative by employing a compelling narrative of shared development, some international relations scholars fear that it is a neo-colonial enterprise that aims at exploiting partners through unequal exchange (Roy, 2018; Anderlini, 2018). China’s willingness to offer preferential loans to partner countries is being viewed as an attempt to ensnare them into a debt-trap, given the higher interest rates offered vis-à-vis other international financial institutions. In addition to allowing China to exert influence over the development path of other countries, BRI has helped it gain control over strategically situated ports and sea-lanes. Moreover, the industrial overcapacity in China in conjunction with the recent weakening of the domestic demand has forced Chinese firms to search for markets abroad to preserve their growth. Moreover, China’s energy import dependency poses an imminent challenge to its secondary sector. 82% of its oil and 30% of its natural gas are shipped through the Straits of Malacca (Hsu, 2016), making this Sea Lane of Communications (SLOC) its most critical vulnerability. Given the U.S. capability to interdict the present SLOC with its bases in the Persian Gulf and Diego Garcia, China has shifted its focus to developing new pipelines that bypass this route. Since this objective requires the access to overseas territories, China has undertaken investment projects under the aegis of BRI to establish its global presence. The researcher uses case study analysis to elucidate the self-serving economic motivations behind China’s engagement in Africa and Asia, which are accomplished by exhibiting the behaviour of an aspiring neo-colonial power. By identifying the strategies adopted by China to accomplish its goals in the developing world, the study seeks to help policymakers and stakeholders in the partner countries strengthen their capacity to negotiate mutually favourable deals.

Keywords: Belt and Road Initiative, Neo-colonialism, China, Africa, Asia