All FSI Publications Journal Articles Oxford Review of Economic Policy Volume 38 Issue 2, Summer 2022, Pages 278–301

The obsolescing bargain crosses the Belt and Road Initiative: renegotiations on BRI projects

A study examining the BRI through the lens of the obsolescing bargain to evaluate the practices of China’s state-owned enterprises (SOEs) and policy banks in mitigating political risk.

Over the past decade, there has been an extremely rapid increase in bilaterally financed infrastructure projects globally, as part of China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). The BRI is a broad initiative involving many Chinese state-owned enterprises to develop transport and other infrastructure across the developing world, with bilateral financing from either the China Development Bank (CDB) or the China Export–Import Bank (CEXIM). More recently, many large BRI projects have undergone renegotiations with borrower nations or caused financial distress. This provides a useful opportunity to evaluate the BRI through the lens of the obsolescing bargain model. The obsolescing bargain has historically been used to describe the relationship between multinational corporations (MNCs) and the developing countries they invest in. For large capital investments paid off over a long operating period, such as infrastructure projects, the obsolescing bargain describes a shift in leverage from MNCs to the host nation once the capital investment is complete, often leading to renegotiation or even expropriation. This study examines the BRI through the lens of the obsolescing bargain to evaluate the practices of China’s state-owned enterprises (SOEs) and policy banks in mitigating political risk.