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

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

Wales, early 19th century: During breaks from his law studies, William Robert Grove indulges in his passion for science to become an inventor. On his honeymoon in Europe, he learns about the new energy source everyone's talking about: electricity. After learning that electricity allows water to be broken down into its two components, hydrogen and oxygen, his intuition leads him to an idea that ends up making him a pioneer of sustainable energy production.

Watch the story of William Robert Grove in Eni's MINDS series, where we travel through time seeking scientists.

Listen: The country's top infectious disease expert, Dr. Anthony Fauci, joins Ian Bremmer to talk vaccines, school re-openings, and when—and how—the pandemic could finally come end. He was last on GZERO World just weeks before the pandemic hit in the fall of 2019 and he described at the time what kept him up at night: a "pandemic-like respiratory illness." This time, he talks about how closely that nightmare scenario foreshadowed the COVID-19 pandemic. He also offers some guidance about what public health measures vaccinated Americans should continue to take in the coming months (hint: masks stay on).

Subscribe to the GZERO World Podcast on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher, or your preferred podcast platform to receive new episodes as soon as they're published.

Ian Bremmer's Quick Take:

Hi, everybody. Ian Bremmer here, and as we head into the weekend, a Quick Take on, well, the first bombing campaign of the new Biden administration. You kind of knew it was going to happen. Against some Iranian-backed militias in Syria, looks like a couple of dozen, perhaps more killed, and some militia-connected military facilities destroyed. I think there are a few ways to look at this, maybe three different lenses.

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Afghanistan frustrated nineteenth-century British imperialists for 40 years, and ejected the Soviet army in 1989 after a bloody decade there. And though American and NATO forces ousted the Taliban government in 2001 over its support for al-Qaeda, there's no good reason for confidence that nearly 20 years of occupation have brought lasting results for security and development across the country.

But… could China succeed where other outsiders have failed – and without a costly and risky military presence? Is the promise of lucrative trade and investment enough to ensure a power-sharing deal among Afghanistan's warring factions?

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Carl Bildt, former Prime Minister and Foreign Minister of Sweden, shares his perspective from Stockholm on Europe In 60 Seconds:

Is there a military coup ongoing in Armenia?

Well, it isn't a military coup as of yet, but it's not far from it either. This is the turmoil that is resulting from the war with Azerbaijan, which Armenia took a large death loss. What happened was that the head of the armed forces asked for the prime minister to resign. That was not quite a coup, but not very far from it. Now, the prime minister sacked the head of the armed forces, there's considerable uncertainty. Watch the space.

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