New report shows investment in countries of the Belt and Road (BRI) have surged since 2018

Chinese investment in Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) nations has surged to its highest level since 2018, with nearly $50 billion poured into overseas projects last year, according to a joint report by the Griffith Asia Institute and Fudan University. This significant uptick in investment marks a remarkable 80% increase from the previous year and has propelled total engagement with the 150 countries participating in the infrastructure initiative to over $1 trillion since its inception in 2013. 

The report, authored by Griffith Asia Institute Director, Professor Christoph Nedopil Wang, reveals key insights into the nature and trends of Chinese investment across BRI nations.  

“Notably, investment in high-technology projects, including electric vehicle manufacturing, witnessed substantial growth.”  

The battery sector alone attracted approximately $8 billion in engagement, driven by ambitious plans for battery factories in South Korea and car plants in countries such as Thailand, Vietnam, Brazil, and Hungary. 

Despite concerns surrounding China’s lending practices and its influence in recipient nations, the report confirms a continued expansion of outbound investment. This growth is particularly impressive given the backdrop of a domestic economic slowdown in China. However, the drop-off in BRI construction projects may reflect increasing apprehension among participating countries, some of which have sought to restructure their debt incurred from Chinese-led infrastructure projects. 

Interestingly, the report highlights a shift in the scale and nature of BRI projects, with the average size of building projects announced last year falling below $400 million. This trend reflects China’s strategic move towards prioritising “small and beautiful” projects, a departure from the large-scale infrastructure developments that characterised the early years of the initiative. 

While the report primarily focuses on Chinese engagement through equity stakes in overseas projects, it acknowledges the complexity of tracking Chinese financing, which may also include construction contracts funded by Chinese banks or other countries. As such, the report provides a comprehensive overview of Chinese involvement in the BRI rather than a precise measure of total financing. 

“Moving forward, further growth in Chinese BRI engagement is anticipated, with a strong emphasis on renewable energy, mining, and related technologies.“ 

These projections align with China’s broader economic goals and its pursuit of partnerships in key sectors crucial for sustainable development and technological innovation. 

In summary, the report sheds light on the evolving landscape of Chinese investment in BRI nations, highlighting both opportunities and challenges for participating countries. As China continues to expand its global economic footprint, understanding the dynamics of its engagement in the BRI is essential for policymakers, investors, and stakeholders alike. 

To view the full report, please download PDF or read it online.