Does the geopolitical advantage of China's Belt and Road Initiative outweigh the financial costs of the loans? Would the loan be better spent internally or kept unused?
This is not answerable because not even the costs of BRI can be well accounted for. E.g.
But for all the attention the BRI receives, there is little reliable information about how it is unfolding in aggregate. A major challenge is that the BRI label evades classification. There is no agreed-upon definition for what qualifies as a BRI project. There are roughly 70 countries participating in the BRI, according to Chinese state media. Yet there are Chinese-funded projects in non-participant countries that share many of the same characteristics. The BRI was officially launched in November 2013, but projects started years earlier are often counted. The BRI banner hangs over a wide and ever-expanding list of activities. There are BRI fashion shows, concerts, and art exhibits. By design, the BRI is more a loose brand than a program with strict criteria.
One cause of confusion is that the BRI is not a single plan at all. A visitor to its website would click in vain to find a detailed explanation of its aims. There is no blueprint of the kind that China’s leaders love: so many billions of dollars to be spent, so many kilometres of track to be laid or so much new port capacity to be built by such-and-such a date.
Chinese maps show the belt and road as lines that trace the routes of ancient “silk roads” that traversed Eurasia and the seas between China and Africa (see Briefing). That was the original conceit, but these days China talks about BRI as if it were a global project. The rhetoric has expanded to include a “Pacific Silk Road”, a “Silk Road on Ice” that crosses the Arctic Ocean and a “Digital Silk Road” through cyberspace.