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It is hard to appreciate the size, scope and ambition of China’s “Belt and Road” initiative (BRI). It seeks to fill a multitrillion dollar infrastructure investment gap. It aims to link East and West, not only economically but also culturally as it revives and reanimates centuries-old trade routes that created the modern world. It is a modern foreign policy gambit to extend Chinese influence and status, restoring its place as the Middle Kingdom on Earth. And finally, it has become a cornerstone of the Chinese Communist Party’s legitimacy and the signature initiative of supreme leader Xi Jinping.

Yet it was hard not to miss, amid the praise and celebrations at the Second Belt and Road Initiative International Forum held last week in Beijing, a sense that those ambitions should be scaled back. Chinese pride at the success of the BRI and the presence of 37 heads of state and top officials from 100 countries at the forum was tempered by the resistance to the project that has been generated since its launch six years ago. To its credit, Beijing appears to be listening to critics and adjusting the BRI to ensure that it benefits all participants, rather than just China.

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