When Chinese President Xi Jinping visited Central Asia and Southeast Asia in September and October of 2013, he raised the initiative of jointly building the Silk Road Economic Belt and the 21st-Century Maritime Silk Road (hereinafter referred to as the Belt and Road Initiative), which have attracted close attention from all over the world.

(National Development and Reform Commission, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and Ministry of Commerce of the People’s Republic of China, with State Council authorization, ‘Vision and Actions on Jointly Building Silk Road Economic Belt and 21st-Century Maritime Silk Road’, 28 March 2015)

President Xi Jinping laid out the concept of the Belt & Road Initiative (BRI) during his first visit to central and south east Asia in 2013. On 28 March 2015, the National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC) and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, together with the Ministry of Commerce (MOFCOM) published the ‘Vision and Action to Promote the Co-Construction of a “Silk Road Economic Belt” and a “21st-Century Maritime Silk Road”’ under the authority of the State Council (B&R Document). In 2017, at the inaugural Belt and Road Forum, another explanatory policy document, “Building the Belt and Road: Concept, Practice and China’s Contribution” (B&R CPCC), was issued by the Office of the Leading Group for the BRI. The B&R CPCC is explicit in stating the cooperation goals, a focus on bilateralism, collaboration with other developed countries, utilization of existing multilateral institutions among other principles.

China’s BRI is the largest infrastructure investment effort in the World. Some argued that it will replace the Washington Consensus and the international ordering that has anchored global trade since Second World War. This is a premature assertion. What is clear, however, is that the way the investment system works will be different to either the regionally integrated market system of the EU, with its unified legal jurisdiction, or the open, multinational approach overseen by the WWII Breton Woods institutions, which has relied on a legal system based on treaties, institutions and dispute resolution system that includes legal provisions to give international investors and host states a means of resolving disputes and enforcing awards, ranging from international arbitration clauses to bilateral intergovernmental treaties. 

The BRI, on the other hand, is in its legal infancy. The project studies its social, historical, political and economic context, and examines the challenges facing investors and states participating in the BRI, given the indeterminacy of its multilateral trading system, the lack of an overriding authority, the coexistence of different and incompatible legal traditions in BRI participating states, and consequent uncertainty over issues of jurisdictional and enforcement. It holds that in order to tackle such challenges, a deeper understanding of the BRI needs to be gained, free from essentialism or demonization; it further argues that the BRI will in time give rise to new legal norms and institutions, the outlines of which are already visible. One essential development will be the creation of a dispute resolution regime that responds to the array of challenges posed by projects carried out under the BRI badge, which may not necessarily be compatible with traditional dispute resolution mechanisms – most notably, investor–state dispute settlement.

Malik R. Dahlan,‘ Deconstructing the Belt and Road Initiative: How China is Shaping Global Investment Law and Policy’, Forthcoming 2020

Malik R. Dahlan, ‘ Dispute Regulation in the Institutional Development of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank: Establishing the Normative Legal Implications of the Belt and Road Initiative ’, Brill | NijhoffAIIB Yearbook of International Law, Volume: 2, 121-144, 2019

Malik R. Dahlan, ‘ Dimensions of the New Belt & Road International Order: An Analysis of the Emerging Legal Norms and a Conceptionalisation of the Regulation of Disputes ’, Beijing Law Review, Volume: 9, 87-112, 2018