The second Belt and Road Forum, being held in Beijing this week, shows China is changing its global infrastructure initiative. Announcements of new plans for roads, bridges, rail lines, and pipelines, are more modest, primarily as a response to the problems associated with the massive scale and rush to construction of the first round of building.
At the start, China failed to build a broader consensus for its investments. Local populations did not see much value from these investments, and in a series of elections from Malaysia to the Maldives, opposition parties have come to power by railing against Chinese megaprojects that looked to be lining the pockets of politicians at the expense of the economy.
Beijing is now promising an approach more attuned to local economic risk and more responsive to local needs.
China is also shifting to more digital infrastructure projects, where China is building its technological prowess. Its new focus on fiber-optic cabling and telecom networks may have more significant impacts on the lives of local citizens than the roads or railways designed to link their countries to China.
This also simultaneously affects these countries’ interests and investments in U.S. and European commercial firms.