Much of the narrative on China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) has been polarized. On the one hand, there is a hawkish countermobilization centered on the “debt-trap,” “Chinese colonialism,” and “yellow peril” narratives. The “debt-trap” conjuring was for the most part introduced by South Asian writers referring to Sri Lanka’s Hambantota port, and later adapted by some U.S. think tanks, popularized by mainstream media, and echoed by politicians across the world.
The implications of indebtedness to China became a paradigm of Chinese diplomacyafter a Center for Global Development report further popularized the argument. The “Chinese colonialism” evolved in parallel, often taking as example the Chinese presence in Africa, and connecting to the long-standing “yellow peril” phobia. On the other hand, Chinese official responses have been mostly on the defensive, trying to de-link the Belt and Road Initiative from geopolitical or hegemonic ambitions, arguing that BRI projects “benefit the local population” and are opportunities for “shared development.”