When President Xi Jinping first assembled world leaders to map out his vision for expanding Chinese soft power via a web of infrastructure investment in 2017, he called the Belt and Road the "project of the century.”

As the Chinese statesman opens the third Belt and Road Forum this week, the future of his brainchild looks uncertain. While the project has drawn $1 trillion in its first decade, according to estimates from think tank Green Finance & Development Center, the momentum has tapered off in recent years.

China’s overall activity in BRI countries is down about 40% from its 2018 peak as the world’s second-biggest economy slows. Beijing faces accusations of being an irresponsible lender driving countries to default. Fractured ties with the U.S. have made association with Xi’s pet project increasingly divisive — Italy, its sole Group of Seven member, is set to exit by the year’s end.