Recalibrating the Belt and Road Initiative Amidst Deep Uncertainties

Published in: Journal of Mega Infrastructure & Sustainable Development (2021). doi: 10.1080/24724718.2021.198328

Posted on RAND.org on December 09, 2021

by Keren Zhu, Rui Shi, Robert J. Lempert

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The Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), a global infrastructure and connectivity plan initiated by China, has undergone significant changes in its policy implementation environment since it was first proposed in 2013. Faced with escalating tensions between the US and China and a sweeping pandemic, many assumptions upon which the original BRI policy framework was formulated no longer stand. As with other types of mega-scale infrastructure programme, BRI outcomes depend on future changes in the system that are hard to predict as well as opposing preferences of stakeholders that are difficult to balance. This situation may be conceptualized as 'deep uncertainty' in long-term decision making. Based on our initial analysis of BRI literature, we suggest incorporating deep uncertainty in BRI long-term decision making. At the Initiative level, to better cope with deep uncertainties, this implies that that decision makers need systematic, risk-based, and quantitative policy analysis tools to inform any adjustments in BRI development strategies and efforts to make BRI more resilient to potential future shocks. At the project level, it means that participating countries and a wide array of stakeholders may need such instruments to assess the feasibility and risks of specific projects. Decision Making Under Deep Uncertainty (DMDU) methods offer a set of useful and effective policy analysis tools to support tough and costly decisions that involve long-term planning, as exemplified by BRI megaproject investment. In this paper, we describe the deep uncertainties affecting BRI decision making, and from a preliminary analysis identify drawbacks of existing BRI policy analysis in light of its future challenges, use examples to illustrate how DMDU methods may potentially shape BRI decisions differently compared with current approaches, and tentatively discuss how scientists and policymakers can apply DMDU methods to inform and support BRI-related decision making that help enhance Initiative and project efficacy and efficiency.

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