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

Last week, in Fulton, WI, together with election officials from the state of Wisconsin and the election technology company VotingWorks, Microsoft piloted ElectionGuard in an actual election for the first time.

As voters in Fulton cast ballots in a primary election for Wisconsin Supreme Court candidates, the official count was tallied using paper ballots as usual. However, ElectionGuard also provided an encrypted digital tally of the vote that enabled voters to confirm their votes have been counted and not altered. The pilot is one step in a deliberate and careful process to get ElectionGuard right before it's used more broadly across the country.

Read more about the process at Microsoft On The Issues.

The risk of a major technology blow-up between the US and Europe is growing. A few weeks ago, we wrote about how the European Union wanted to boost its "technological sovereignty" by tightening its oversight of Big Tech and promoting its own alternatives to big US and Chinese firms in areas like cloud computing and artificial intelligence.

Last week, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and her top digital officials unveiled their first concrete proposals for regulating AI, and pledged to invest billions of euros to turn Europe into a data superpower.

More

Communal violence in Delhi: Over the past few days, India's capital city has seen its deadliest communal violence in decades. This week's surge in mob violence began as a standoff between protesters against a new citizenship law that critics say discriminates against India's Muslims and the law's Hindu nationalist defenders. Clashes between Hindu and Muslim mobs in majority-Muslim neighborhoods in northeast Delhi have killed at least 11 people, both Muslim and Hindu, since Sunday. We're watching to see how Prime Minister Narendra Modi's government responds – Delhi's police force reports to federal, rather than local, officials.

More

Ian Bremmer's perspective on what's happening in geopolitics:

What are the takeaways from President Trump's visit to India?

No trade deal, in part because Modi is less popular and he's less willing to focus on economic liberalization. It's about nationalism right now. Hard to get that done. But the India US defense relationship continues to get more robust. In part, those are concerns about China and Russia.

More

27,000: The Emir of Qatar has decreed a $27,000 fine and up to five years in prison for anyone who publishes, posts, or repost content that aims to "harm the national interest" or "stir up public opinion." No word on whether the Doha-based Al-Jazeera network, long a ferocious and incisive critic of other Arab governments, will be held to the same standard.

More