By: Tom Ginsburg



China’s Belt and Road Initiative (“BRI”) has been the object of much speculation and even alarmism in some quarters. On the one hand, it seems to embody Xi Jinping’s “Win-Win” diplomacy and the aspiration of China to play a positive role on the world stage; on the other hand, some have raised fears of debt traps and other negative consequences for participating countries. This article considers the effect of the development program on democracy in participating countries. China generally takes non-interference rhetoric seriously, and has not engaged in the extensive democracy undermining programs of Russia and other authoritarians. But the BRI complicates China’s relationships with recipient countries and changes domestic politics therein, whether as a matter of conscious strategy or not. This article explains the mechanisms whereby domestic democratic processes may be hindered or potentially even enhanced through the BRI. It also considers China’s recent moves to utilize extraterritorial jurisdiction as a further point of leverage, suggesting that the BRI will have a political impact as well as its economic one.