Editor’s Note: April 25, 2019

Like it or not China’s Belt and Road is here to stay

China has cancelled all interest-free loans it extended to Ethiopia up to the end of 2018. The announcement comes as Ethiopian prime minister Abiy Ahmed is in Beijing for the start of the second Belt and Road (BRI) Forum – China’s $1tr plus global trade initiative.

The move is likely in response to allegations over the last year that BRI infrastructure projects in developing countries are part of ‘debt trap’ diplomacy by Beijing. African countries in particular have repeatedly been warned about the perils of signing up.

The issue is already dominating news coverage of the gathering, despite being largely discreditedby research.

Lost in this is a sense of the significance of the BRI. Joining Ethiopia’s prime minister in Beijing are 37 other leaders, including Russian president Vladimir Putin and Italian prime minister Giuseppe Conte.

The latter’s presence is particularly noteworthy. Italy is the first G7 member to join the BRI.

It’s a good reminder that the issue of how to deal with China – the world’s second-biggest economy – is a question not just for places like Africa.

Put differently, the Belt and Road is here to stay – like it or not.

A more useful debate than Beijing’s supposed ‘debt trap’ is to better understand the initiative, and how to get the most out of it.

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