One Belt, One Road, One Question: What’s the Big Deal?

Delegations from around the world have traveled to Beijing this week for a forum promoting China's Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), a trillion-dollar Chinese grand plan to build new roads, rails, ports and telecom networks around the world. The plan aims to recreate ancient trading routes between Asia, the Middle East, and Europe, but also to tighten China's more recent ties with countries in Sub-Saharan Africa and Latin America.


The positive: Countries that sign up get urgently-needed infrastructure upgrades, boosting regional and global trade. For China, BRI will expand Beijing's international commercial and political influence.

The scale of the project is enormous – in today's dollars, it's roughly ten times what the US spent on the Marshall Plan to rebuild post-war Europe. About 80 countries have already joined, and dozens more are flirting with the idea. For a world that badly needs more and better infrastructure, Belt and Road is a good thing.

The negative: Critics of the plan warn that China is setting a debt trap by allowing developing countries to accept loans they can't pay back. Default could then enable Beijing to seize assets – as it's already done on a handful of occasions – or exert political pressure on cash-strapped governments.

This critique doesn't just come from the US, which increasingly sees China as a commercial and strategic rival. The governments of Malaysia, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka have each raised this concern in recent months. Chinese officials say this threat is greatly exaggerated but have pledged during this week's forum to take steps to minimize the risk of defaults.

Read more: BRI is opening up a new fault line in Europe

Ferrera Erbognone, a small town in the northern Italian province of Pavia, is home to one of the most cutting-edge computing centers in the world: Eni's Green Data Center. All of the geophysical and seismic prospecting data Eni produces from all over the world ends up here. Now, the Green Data Center is welcoming a new supercomputing system: HPC5, an advanced version of the already powerful HPC4. Due to be completed by early 2020, HPC5 will triple the Green Data Center's computing power, from 18.6 to 52 petaflops, equivalent to 52 million billion mathematical operations per second.

Learn more at Eniday: Energy Is A Good Story

A few days ago, the New York Times published a bombshell report on the Chinese government's systematic oppression of Muslims in Western China. The story was about many things: human rights, geopolitics, Chinese society – but it was also about technology: Beijing's repression in Xinjiang province is powered in part by facial recognition, big data, and other advanced technologies.

It's a concrete example of a broader trend in global politics: technology is a double-edged sword with sharp political consequences. Artificial intelligence, for example, can help develop new medicines but it can also support surveillance states. Social media helps nourish democracy movements and entertains us with cat memes, but it also feeds ISIS and 4Chan.

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Increasingly violent anti-government protests in Hong Kong have dealt a major blow to the city's once booming economy. Tourism – an economic lifeline in that city – has dropped, and retailers are suffering from a sharp decline in sales. Now, six months since the unrest began, Hong Kong has recorded its first recession in a decade, meaning its economy has contracted for two consecutive quarters. Here's a look at how Hong Kong's quarterly gross domestic product (GDP) growth has fared during the past two years.

Tehran's Next Move: "We don't want an Islamic Republic, we don't want it," was the chant heard among some protesters in Tehran over the weekend after the government announced a 50 percent fuel price hike meant to fund broader support for the country's poor. Under crippling US sanctions, the country's economy has plummeted, unleashing a "tsunami" of unemployment. What started Friday as nationwide economic protests took on a political coloring, as protestors in some cities tore up the flag and chanted "down with [Supreme Leader] Khamenei!". The unrest seems to be related, at least indirectly, to widespread demonstrations against Tehran-backed regimes in Iraq and Lebanon as well. Economically-motivated protests erupt in Iran every few years, but they tend to subside within weeks under harsh government crackdowns. So far, the authorities have shut down the internet to prevent protestors from using social media to organize rallies. But Iran's powerful Revolutionary Guards Corps has warned of more "decisive action" if the unrest continues.

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