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Viewpoint – could the belt and road initiative be derailed? An analysis of impediments to completion

Peter Enderwick (Department of Business, Auckland University of Technology, Auckland, New Zealand)

Critical Perspectives on International Business

ISSN: 1742-2043

Article publication date: 4 November 2020

Issue publication date: 12 August 2021




The continuation of China’s belt and road initiative (BRI) is assumed in most analyses. Yet, recent events have created significant reputational damage for China and Chinese businesses. With a trade war evolving into a hegemonic struggle, there are a number of potential developments that could derail the BRI. This paper aims to provide a contemporary review of the factors that could negatively impact its continuation, and what China has done to mitigate the risks.


A descriptive paper that groups possible disruptive factors into three groups: internal weaknesses of the BRI and its design; those related to China’s implementation of the BRI and external concerns and pressures.


China has actively reviewed and refined the BRI to reduce its perceived weaknesses and increase its attractiveness to potential participants, focussing on debt dependency, transparency and governance. However, this has occurred at the same time as growing concerns regarding China’s international assertiveness, the hegemonic challenge and recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Research limitations/implications

These changes are occurring within an extremely dynamic environment and any analysis at one point in time is subject to considerable limitations. However, the paper brings together a range of disparate perspectives in a structured manner.


The classification of possible threats to the BRI is original and provides insights into the relative significance of the diverse challenges that China faces. The paper concludes that while China’s operational focus on the mechanics of the BRI process is necessary, it may not be sufficient to ensure its continuing development. The paper identifies the next step which is conceptualisation of these ideas and of the BRI. Some guidance as to how this might be done is provided.



Enderwick, P. (2021), "Viewpoint – could the belt and road initiative be derailed? An analysis of impediments to completion", Critical Perspectives on International Business, Vol. 17 No. 3, pp. 463-480.



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