Publication Date

April 2019


Stephen Angle


College of East Asian Studies, College of Social Studies


English (United States)


The Belt and Road Initiative, an ambitious project launched by the Chinese government in 2013 to spread mutual prosperity through trade and investment across the world, has become synonymous with all of China’s foreign policy and external economic ambitions. While China is the driving force behind the Initiative and likely worthy of some of the suspicion regarding alterior geopolitical motives, there are many countries involved that hope to benefit from the infrastructure development promised by the Initiative, not just on China’s terms but also on their own. The theoretical debates of the ‘Asian values’ thesis and the human right to development include core values that are central to the potential of the bilateral interactions within the BRI to contribute to defensible regional and international governance measures. The ‘Asian values’ thesis emerged at the end of the 20th century partially as a culture-based ‘Asian’ justification for state autonomy, and the human right to development was added to the existing human rights discourse in part to challenge the norms of international governance. The ‘Asian values’ thesis and human right to development theoretical discussions allow for the analysis of Belt and Road Initiative rhetoric within the context of development-based theories that feature protections for state autonomy within Asia, instead of theories that feature actions that can be taken by Western countries and Western-institutions to improve global development. This thesis uses the case study of Malaysia, a member of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) with well-established diplomatic relations with China, to demonstrate that the BRI can be examined as another attempt to similarly promote state autonomy, fair international governance, and balanced development. Belt and Road Initiative activity in Malaysia, and more specifically the East Coast Rail Link project that is being negotiated between China and key members of the Malaysian government elite, justifies cautious optimism for the future of the BRI, as it resembles a more balanced, transparent, and accountable process for bilateral relations able to be supported by regional and international institutions that may even exceed the promise of the original Belt and Road rhetoric.



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