Countries along the Belt and Road- What does it all mean?

 In analysis, infographic

The Development Reimagined Infographic series explores which countries are and aren’t signed up to China’s flagship Belt and Road Initiative

Announced in 2013 by Chinese President Xi Jinping, The Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) has promised new business and development opportunities around the world, connecting regions of Asia, Europe and Africa in large investment and turnkey projects. But BRI isn’t solely about infrastructure- people to people bonds, “win-win cooperation” and cultural exchange are key elements of this initiative that is aiming to transform development across Asia and beyond.

The World Bank predicts that, if the proposed BRI projects are completed, they have the potential to increase trade along the 6 economic corridors, and maritime ‘roads’ by between 2.7% and 9.7%,increase income by up to 3.4% and help 7.6 million people lift themselves from extreme poverty[1].

But of course, the impacts in each participant country are widely varied, with equal parts optimism and scepticism for the future of BRI from multiple different stakeholders… In addition, the lack of transparency around what is “in” or “out” of the BRI makes it difficult to really assess its impact with any real credibility.

Therefore, as part of the Development Reimagined infographic series, we have produced a series of maps, outlining which countries are signed up to BRI “Memorandums of Understanding (MOUs)* to get some simple but clear insights into what this means for each region.

At a global level,the BRI spans around 140 countries, including China, involving two thirds of the world’s population[2]. Specifically, this amounts to 61.5% of the Caribbean, 66.7% of South America, 42.6% of Central America, 100% of the Middle East, 97% of Asia (excluding the Middle East), 57.1% of Oceania,72.7% of Africa, 56.8% of Europe[3].

It is interesting to note that two of the BRIC countries – India and Brazil – are not signed up, and of the G7 only one country – Italy – is signed up. This could indicate a wariness towards China’s increasing global presence and it remains to be seen whether more G7 and the remaining BRIC countries will join China’s flagship initiative.

Overall, a majority of the BRI’s investment is directed towards transport and logistics – railways and roads, which are connecting regions across the world and facilitating international trade. A study of 88 BRI countries in 2018 estimated that there is US$330bn of tracked projects in this sector, and US$266bn in the energy and utilities sector[4]. However, it is important to note that some of these projects were initiated prior to the signing of BRI MOUs, so these are likely to be overestimates.

In Southeast Asia, the countries with the largest concentration of BRI investment are Indonesia, Cambodia and Vietnam[5]. The sectors which are benefitting from this investment are predominantly railway and road construction, as well as power projects. However, BRI in ASEAN countries (Association of Southeast Asian Nations), has led to an increase of Chinese imports into South East Asia, particularly construction services and related financial services, which risk tilting the balance of trade significantly in Chinas favour. The key to retaining a balance of trade, which benefits both China and ASEAN countries, is promoting investments that promote value-added industry in these areas to boost the exports of the recipient country.

It is particularly interesting that 100% of the countries in the Middle East are interested in the BRI. The region is strategically important as a crossroads connecting East with West, but it has challenging politics and security. Nevertheless, China has pledged to provide $35 billion in financing and loans[7]to Iran and plans to construct a railway connecting Tehran and Mashhad. Furthermore, China has also recently completed a high-speed railway in Saudi Arabia[8]. China’s involvement in and relationship with both of these countries through the BRI is fascinating in itself and there are varying expert views on which is most crucial[9]. Over the next year, it will be interesting to see how China can manage such tensions, whilst continuing to invest through the BRI in the region.

In central Asia, the BRI initiative is providing the opportunity for landlocked countries, such as Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan, to increase their trade with China. For instance, the New Eurasia Land Bridge Economic Corridor connecting China with Europe via Kazakhstan and The China-Central Asia-West Corridor which links China’s Xinjiang province with Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan. The economic motivation of proposed BRI investment in this region is to bolster support from the continent as well as to open future trade routes by constructing infrastructure servicing the link between China and Europe.

In Africa,  initial BRI signatories were concentrated in East Africa but have recently extended to cover 40 out of the 55 countries. Hence, to date, a railway connecting Ethiopia and Djibouti, and an internal railway in Kenya have been constructed using Chinese financing from financial institutions such as EximBank (who funded 90% of the Kenyan project[6]) and China Merchant Holdings Ltd, with plans to potentially extend this line into Uganda and Rwanda. If the BRI fulfils its promise to provide the required infrastructure and transport links, the opportunity for Chinese factories to outsource their labour-intensive branches to African countries will follow. This could result in the development of African exports to US, Europe, and even China of higher value-added manufactured goods, rather than commodities.

BRI’s engagement with Europe, particularly with Italy and Switzerland in summer of 2019, brought new leases of legitimacy to the initiative, as well as demonstrated China’s willingness to adjust its approach to the BRI. The motives of Italy’s engagement – as a G7 Member – in BRI, are both economic and political. The MOU signed by Italy had some specific and different paragraphs to standard MOUs, while constituting a step away from Brussels and the EU in Italy’s foreign policy[10]. Then, when Switzerland signed its bespoke MOU, focused exclusively on “triangular cooperation” or “third party market cooperation” in the Chinese translation, it demonstrated that the BRI is not simply a development initiative but has the potential to build Chinese and other countries’ influence around the world together.

Finally, the Latin America and Caribbean region has made a recent and significant addition to the BRI, despite the geographical distance from the original “Silk Road”. China is particularly focused on including Chile and Panama, as the two countries can facilitate the transport of Chinese goods through the Panama Canal, and their proximity to both the Pacific and Atlantic oceans. One of the major BRI projects in this region is the laying of 20,000 to 24,000 kilometres of subsea fibreoptic cable to connect Chile and China[11]. This immense project demonstrates China’s motivation to use Chile as a gateway into Latin America. At a time of strained US-China economic relations, China’s growing partnership with America’s neighbours will be an area to watch.


Final thoughts…

For all countries along the BRI it is important that the infrastructure built in partnership with China draws wider foreign investment to ensure that their trade with China remains mutually beneficial. A lack of established value-added exports has the potential to make many countries vulnerable to diminishing terms of trade with China and others, and unmanageable debts from BRI projects. The infrastructure must also be green – built to the highest environmental standards and leapfrogging fossil-fuel based economic growth.

At Development Reimagined, we constantly work with different partners to support the sustainable development of the BRI, both through our bespoke advice but also through the implementation of green projects across many developing countries.  Our research has deep dived into the wider context of BRI, such as this piece published on the distribution of Confucius Institutes and people to people bonds, this speech on creating jobs along the BRI and this analysis of debt cancellations along the BRI.

For more information about how DR can support you with your BRI vision contact us at:


*maps and data are correct as of September 2019




[3]Own calculations based on official BRI membership data. Country lists based on UN list of recognised countries.









Recommended Posts
Showing 14 comments
  • Gregery Soutter

    I recently read an article claiming that the BRI plan by China is in jeopardy particularly due to the COVID 19 pandemic. The risks from the economic devastation in many Countries of the World and in particular in Africa will make it difficult for China to see returns on its investment. In addition and, more importantly, China will be left at the mercy of the African Recipients post COVID 19. Is this a reasonable expectation or will China have more billions to fix this? Any comments regarding this assessment would be appreciated.

pingbacks / trackbacks

Leave a Comment

Contact Us

We're not around right now. But you can send us an email and we'll get back to you, asap.

Not readable? Change text. captcha txt


Research Analyst

Edmond is a research analyst who is passionate about sustainable development, innovation, and the environment. Passionate about climate financing, he firmly believe there is a more reliable system to promote equality, growth, and welfare in societies without affecting the ecosystem. Through his skills, knowledge and experienced gained over 7 years, he wants to make an impact in the world of development. Edmond holds a Master’s Degree in Public Policy from Korea Development Institute and a BA Degree (Honors) in Business from University of Derby.


    Founder and CEO

Hannah Ryder is the Founder & CEO of Development Reimagined. A former diplomat and economist with 20 years of experience, named one of 100 most influential Africans in 2021, she is also Senior Associate for the Africa Program of the Center for Strategic International Studies (CSIS), sits on the Board of the Environmental Defence Fund, and is a member of UAE's International Advisory Council on the New Economy. Prior to her role at DR, Ms Ryder led the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP)’s work with China to help it scale up and improve its cooperation with other developing countries, including in Africa. She has also played various advisory roles for the UN and OECD and co-authored the seminal Stern Review of the Economics of Climate Change in 2006.


Deputy Director

Leah Lynch is Deputy Director of Development Reimagined (DR), and head of the China office. Leah has over 10 years of experience in development and has lived in China for over 8 years. Leah has also travelled extensively around Asia and Africa for research. Leah supports the strategic direction of the team across China, with a mission to deliver high quality research on sustainable development and poverty reduction. Leah is also Chair of the Sustainability Forum at the British Chamber of Commerce in China, providing direction on sustainability initiatives for British and Chinese business. Leah has also consulted on various evaluations on UK aid (ICAI) and is a specialist on development cooperation from the UK and China. Leah has also consulted on various UN projects, including providing support to the UN China team during the COVID-19 Pandemic. Prior to DR, Leah was at the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) China, supporting the UN’s portfolio on communication strategies, China’s South- South Cooperation and the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). Before UNDP, Leah lived and worked in Kenya developing sustainable water policies for the Kenyan government.


China-Africa Policy Analyst

Yike Fu is a Policy Analyst and has been responsible for leading numerous areas of work, including on debt analysis in Africa and beyond, and China-Africa trade and investment logistics and analysis. She is the co-author of “African Debt Guide”, in which she challenged the narrative that Africa is in the midst of a new debt crisis by analysing data back to the 1970s and adopting new metrics to present the real story behind the data. She also developed a benchmark to compare the financial distribution of development partners such as the UK, US, Japan, France and China in Africa. Prior to her role at DR she worked at the International Finance Corporation and African Union Representational Mission to the US. She holds a Masters in International Affairs from George Washington University.


Research Analyst

Judith is a Research and Policy Analyst, where she specialises in Africa-China relations, international development, and diplomacy. During her time at Development Reimagined, Judith has co-authored several articles published in The Diplomat on debt and China-Barbados relations and was quoted by China Daily in a piece on Women Rights in China. Previously, Judith worked as a research analyst for an Advocate and Commissioner and Oats office in Kenya.


Policy Analyst

Ovigwe specialises in geopolitics with particular reference to Africa in a changing Global Order. He is adept at critically analysing the politics of contemporary development processes and providing insight into the geopolitical interests that influence them. His work includes research, publications, tailored briefings and advising on global and regional trends, and issues at the nexus of geopolitics and development. Ovigwe appears frequently in media around the world such as Al Jazeera, TRT World, SABC, CGTN, BBC Radio, and other platforms.


Policy Analyst

Jing leads China-African health and agriculture cooperation research at Development Reimagined, having managed our FOCAC Policy Analysis and Advocacy project. She is also the co-author of “China-Africa Health Cooperation under FOCAC Umbrella”, in which she analysed China’s commitments around health cooperation since the first FOCAC summit and deepdived into four African countries’ health overview, challenges and cooperation with China as cases studies. Before DR, Jing worked at GIZ Cambodia on M&E of a disability advocacy project. She also worked as a translator with Chinese medical team in Benin.


Trade Policy Analyst

Patrick is an International Trade Policy and Trade Law Expert with over 5 years of experience. His expertise includes trade law, trade policy analysis and regional integration. He is currently engaged with Development Reimagined as a Senior Trade Analyst and was the lead author of Development Reimagined's recent Report on Africa-China Relations titled "From China-Africa to Africa- China: A Blue Print for a Green and Inclusive Continent-Wide Strategy Towards China." and “Reimaging FOCAC Going Forward.” Patrick has previously consulted for the East African Community, UNECA and for the Kenya Ministry of Trade.


Senior Policy Analyst 

Rosemary is our Senior Policy Analyst. She is a skilled policy analyst and has previously worked as a UK civil servant. She is studying Human Rights at Birkbeck, University of London with a research focus on international law in the context of health crises such as the COVID-19 pandemic.


Project Manager and Africa-China Communication Assistant

Jade is a Project Manager for Development Reimagined’s flagship project Africa Unconstrained, which focuses on financing needs and debt vulnerabilities of African countries. Her research focuses on China-Africa development finance alongside debt vulnerabilities, infrastructure needs and South-South cooperation. She has worked with a breadth of stakeholders from China, Africa and the wider international community, including governments, private sector, NGOs and civil society. Her writing has appeared in a number of publications, including The Africa Report, The China-Africa Project, The Diplomat and more. Jade holds a Master’s in China and Globalisation studies from King’s College London.


Programme Manager

Rosie is the Project Manager of Africa Reimagined (AR) at Development Reimagined (DR) where she supports high-end African brands with entering the Chinese market by operating services such as trademark protection, Chinese market research, Chinese partnership building, and Africa to China logistical support and import/export services. Rosie has worked with DR for over two years now with proven success in helping high-end African brands navigate the Chinese market. She is extremely passionate about her work because more African brands selling in the Chinese marketplace means African countries can export MORE value-added goods, create MORE jobs and foster MORE innovation in African countries.

Rosie is also alumni of the School of International Studies at Peking University in Beijing where she is also an editor at the Peking Africa Think Tank. PATT is led by a diverse group of scholars who specialise in African Studies within the context of Sino-Africa relations.



Lauren has lived in six countries from the Americas to Europe and Asia and speaks both French and Spanish proficiently. At Development Reimagined, Lauren’s research focuses on climate action both in the Asia-Pacific and in Africa, and how countries are using tools such as SDGs and Covid-19 action to build a more climate-resilient future. She holds a Masters in International Relations from Leiden University.



Etsehiwot holds a Masters’s degree in Development Studies from the London School of Economics. She has diverse experience in humanitarian and development issues by working in both multilateral organizations and international non-governmental organizations. Etsehiwot is currently a consultant focusing on the SDGs and development finance.


Economist Consultant

Dibekulu is an economist by training. He holds an MSc in International Development Studies from Palacky University Olomouc, an MSc in Development Economics from the University of Clermont Auvergne, and an MSc in Economics, Finance, and International Integration from the University of Pavia. At Development Reimagined, he works as an Economist consultant. He has strong data analysis skills, with research interests centring around development finance, impact assessment, food security, and agricultural insurance.


Project Manager

Osaru is a health professional with an MSc in Health Systems Policy and an interest in women’s health and population management. At Development Reimagined, she applies her health sector experience to global health research and collating locally applicable development insights from China.


Research Analyst

Ferdinando’s research at Development Reimagined is centred on South-South Cooperation dynamics, specifically on the analysis of Chinese investment and debt flows in Africa and their linkages to African industrialisation. He is currently a Yenching Scholar at Peking University, after having graduated from the University of Cambridge with an MPhil in Development Studies.


Research Analyst

David is a Research and data analyst at Development Reimagined. His scholarly focus is mostly on interdisciplinary research in demographic economics and development with interests in migration, economic development and policy, education, health and subjective well-being. He is currently a PhD scholar at Nelson Mandela University from which he also holds Economics and Statistics and respectively.


Research Analyst Kenya

Ivory is a Kenyan lawyer with experience in policy research and analysis. She also supports the communications team at DR. Ivory speaks English, Swahili and French.


Research And Data Analyst China 

Joy Ene is a Research and Data Analyst at DR. Joy is passionate about African/global development, poverty eradication and trade policies between underdeveloped and developing countries. She is also a fourth-year student of International Economics and Trade at the  Liaoning University, Shenyang, China. She serves as the President of the Student Union, Liaoning University, International Students chapter.


Research Analyst 

Chensi Li is a research analyst. She has previously worked for local NGOs in Nigeria and Cameroon and think-tanks in China.  Her research areas include Sino-African relations, African foreign affairs, public diplomacy, state-building and national governance.

Yixin Yu

Research Analyst 

Yixin is a Junior Research Analyst and her focus areas is on public-private partnership and entrepreneurship. She has over three years of working experience in both private and public sectors in Ethiopia. She was the China Liaison Officer for project ‘Partnership for Investment and Growth in Africa’ at International Trade Centre, where she accumulated rich experience in investment and trade promotion


Founder and CEO

Hannah Ryder is the Founder & CEO of Development Reimagined. A former diplomat and economist with 20 years of experience, named one of 100 most influential Africans in 2021, she is also Senior Associate for the Africa Program of the Center for Strategic International Studies (CSIS), sits on the Board of the Environmental Defence Fund, and is a member of UAE's International Advisory Council on the New Economy. Prior to her role at DR, Ms Ryder led the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP)’s work with China to help it scale up and improve its cooperation with other developing countries, including in Africa. She has also played various advisory roles for the UN and OECD and co-authored the seminal Stern Review of the Economics of Climate Change in 2006.