CLC Spotlight™: China Law Connect and Belt & Road Countries™

CLC Spotlight™: China Law Connect and Belt & Road Countries™*

Date of Publication:
  • Jennifer Ingram, Managing Editor, China Guiding Cases Project, Stanford Law School
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Jennifer Ingram
Managing Editor, China Guiding Cases Project, Stanford Law School
B&R: <em>China Law Connect</em> and Belt & Road <em>Countries</em>TM

Jennifer Ingram is the Managing Editor of the China Guiding Cases Project (the “CGCP”).  Ms. Ingram began working with the CGCP when it was founded, while a student at Stanford Law School.  She has worked closely with Dr. Mei Gechlik, Founder and Director of the CGCP, on the management and development of the project, releasing groundbreaking products related to Guiding Cases and launching the Belt and Road Series to deepen stakeholders’ understanding of this significant but not yet fully understood development.  She also has experience in dispute resolution across diverse jurisdictions, ranging from South Africa and India to the Netherlands and Hungary, and has reviewed large-scale investment projects from a corporate and legal perspective as well as their impact on communities, recently focusing on projects in Kenya with Chinese investment.  Ms. Ingram received a B.A. in Literature from Yale College, where she also majored in Ethnicity, Race & Migration, and a J.D. from Stanford Law School.

CLC Spotlight

China’s Belt and Road Initiative


More than 2,000 years ago, the major civilizations of Asia, Europe, and Africa were linked through an extensive network of trade routes, along which they traded silk and many other goods, shared technologies, and had various intellectual and cultural exchanges that influenced the languages, practices, and religions of the region and, from there, the world (see Image 1).  The term “Silk Road” is often used to refer to this network, evoking images of large caravans traveling across the desert landscape.  These routes, however, were not only on land but also traversed the sea. [1]

B&R: <em>China Law Connect</em> and Belt & Road <em>Countries</em>TM 1
Close-up of 9th century fresco from the Bezeklik Thousand Buddha Caves near Turfan, Xinjiang, China, depicting Sogdian merchants of ancient Iran. Color reproduction of mural, which was destroyed during WWII.

Fast forward to the Fall of 2013, when Chinese President XI Jinping, while on an official tour of Central and Southeast Asia, first mentioned China’s idea to revamp the historical Silk Road and bolster the modern-day land and sea links across these regions and the Middle East and other parts of Asia, Europe, and Africa. In March 2015, the Chinese government formally announced its plans to develop the “Silk Road Economic Belt and the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road” or the “Belt and Road Initiative” (the “BRI”), with five major “cooperation priorities”: policy coordination, facilities connectivity, unimpeded trade, financial integration, and people-to-people bonds. [2]

Countries Participating in the Initiative


While the substantive priorities of the BRI are clear, its geographical coverage is not.  The map first used by the official Chinese press to illustrate the BRI highlights two main routes (see Image 2): a land route connecting inland China to Europe through the Middle East, including a pass through Moscow ( “Silk Road Economic Belt”), and a sea route originating on the southern Chinese coast and moving through Southeast Asia and the Pacific Island region, the Indian Ocean, and over to eastern Africa before traveling through the Red Sea up to the Mediterranean ( “21st Century Maritime Silk Road”).  This map is, however, misleading.  The above-mentioned 2015 official document states explicitly that all countries as well as international and regional organizations are welcome to actively participate in the BRI. [3]

B&R: <em>China Law Connect</em> and Belt & Road <em>Countries</em>TM 2
Image 2

No Official Count

There is no official count of countries involved in the BRI.  At the first Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation, held in May 2017 in Beijing (the “2017 Belt and Road Forum”), President Xi said that 68 countries and international organizations had signed “Belt and Road cooperation agreements”. [4]  The official Belt and Road Portal (, which was launched in March 2017, profiles 72 countries in a section titled “International Cooperation”.  It is, however, unclear whether only these 72 countries are considered to be officially participating in the global initiative.

The CGCP’s Count

The significance of the BRI and its implications for the world, especially legal developments inside and outside China, cannot be thoroughly understood unless it is clear who the players are.  Driven by a desire to shed light on these important topics, the China Guiding Cases Project (the “CGCP”) of Stanford Law School launched its Belt and Road Series in November 2016 to, inter alia, track the involvement of countries around the world in the BRI and feature these countries in the Belt & Road CountriesTM (the “B&R CountriesTM”) portion of the Belt and Road Series.

According to the CGCP’s research, there are, not including China, currently 101 B&R CountriesTM, which, according to the CGCP’s definition, are broadly divided into two groups.  The first group consists of countries that are expressly targeted by China in its plans for the BRI, as evidenced by their inclusion on the Belt and Road Portal and/or the fact that their citizens or companies registered there were involved in Belt & Road CasesTM (“B&R CasesTM”), which are exemplary cases released by the Supreme People’s Court showing how disputes relevant to the BRI have been successfully resolved by Chinese courts. [5]  The second group consists of countries which have taken affirmative steps to indicate their interest and/or involvement in the BRI by signing memoranda of understanding or cooperation agreements at the 2017 Belt and Road Forum [6] or by signing BRI-related agreements or pledging their support for the BRI at other times (see Image 3).

B&R: <em>China Law Connect</em> and Belt & Road <em>Countries</em>TM 3
Image 3

Following this definition, the CGCP counts as B&R CountriesTM 29 countries in addition to the 72 currently listed on the Belt and Road Portal. These 29 countries include:

  • six countries whose private citizens or companies were involved in B&R CasesTM;
  • 11 countries that signed memoranda of understanding or cooperation agreements at the 2017 Belt and Road Forum (at least 47 of the 72 countries profiled on the Belt and Road Portal signed such agreements); [7] and
  • 12 countries that have indicated their interest at other times through pledges or joint statements or other agreements signed with China that relate to the BRI.

Image 4 shows the geographical distribution of the 101 B&R CountriesTM identified by the CGCP. [8]  A few observations are worth noting:

B&R: <em>China Law Connect</em> and Belt & Road <em>Countries</em>TM 4
Image 4
  • 45 countries (almost all) in Asia

All of the countries in Central Asia (i.e., five), South-Eastern Asia (i.e., 11), Southern Asia (i.e., nine), and all but one of the 18 countries of Western Asia (that is, 17 countries) are B&R CountriesTM based on the fact that they have been featured on the Belt and Road Portal (see Table 1). [9]  China’s authorities have also highlighted the country’s closest neighbors in Eastern Asia (three countries), with two (i.e., Mongolia and South Korea) being listed on the Belt and Road Portal and one (i.e., Japan) involved in a B&R CaseTM.  Given the region’s central importance to the ancient Silk Road, the fact that the BRI was first introduced by President Xi while on an official visit to Central Asia, and the opportunities for the development of infrastructure and other ties across the continent, Asian countries are expected to play a central role in the global plan.  It is, therefore, not a surprise that almost all of these countries are B&R CountriesTM.

B&R: <em>China Law Connect</em> and Belt & Road <em>Countries</em>TM 5

  • 34 countries in Europe

From its origins in Central Asia, the BRI, like the ancient Silk Road, has also attracted the participation of many European parties. All Eastern European countries (i.e., 10) and a majority of Southern European countries (i.e., seven) are profiled on the Belt and Road Portal, with the remainder of Southern European countries (i.e., three) having indicated their participation through BRI-related agreements. [10]  While the Belt and Road Portal also highlights some Northern European countries (i.e., three), there are four other B&R CountriesTM in this sub-region: two involved in B&R CasesTM and two having signed BRI-related agreements. Western Europe is the least represented European sub-region on the Belt and Road Portal (with just one country profiled), though more in the region have been identified as B&R CountriesTM based on their involvement in B&R CasesTM (two countries) and their signing of BRI-related agreements (four countries) (see Table 2). This seems to suggest that while Western European countries are quite interested in the BRI and are certainly welcome to participate, more needs to be done to bring them into the core of the Chinese plan.

B&R: <em>China Law Connect</em> and Belt & Road <em>Countries</em>TM 6

  • 14 countries in Africa

As much as China wants to continue strengthening its relationships with African countries, Table 3 shows that many of these countries have not yet expressed clear intentions to join the BRI. While parts of Africa are profiled on the Belt and Road Portal (five countries), most of the African nations involved in the BRI (nine additional countries) have been identified as B&R CountriesTMfor other reasons.

B&R: <em>China Law Connect</em> and Belt & Road <em>Countries</em>TM 7Eastern and Northern Africa are important to the BRI given the main maritime route traced in the first BRI map provided by the Chinese authorities (see above, Image 2).  Most of the African countries profiled on the Belt and Road Portal are located in these regions (two Eastern African countries and two Northern African countries).  The CGCP has identified even more B&R CountriesTM in these areas by discovering that five more Eastern African countries and one more Northern African country have signed BRI-related agreements.

Southern Africa and Western Africa are farther away from the main BRI routes, but a total of four countries in these regions are B&R CountriesTM.  The involvement of these countries despite their geographical distance from the main BRI routes is likely driven by the strategic consideration on the part of both China and these nations to leverage their existing relationships for cooperation under the global plan (e.g., China’s relationship with South Africa as a fellow “BRICS” nation as well as the extensive investments and relationships China has developed with these African countries over recent years).

  • Eight other countries

The remaining B&R CountriesTM truly reflect the open and inclusive nature of the initiative. The CGCP now counts five B&R CountriesTM in Latin (i.e., Central and Southern) America, as well as three in the distant Oceania region (see Table 4). Like Africa, Latin America in recent years has been increasingly recognized by China for its strategic importance, and the BRI is expected to drive more opportunities in the region, especially in the areas of trade and investment. [11]

B&R: <em>China Law Connect</em> and Belt & Road <em>Countries</em>TM 8

Analysis of B&R CountriesTM in China Law Connect


Identifying which countries have joined or will likely join the BRI is just the beginning of the CGCP’s in-depth study of the BRI.  Since the initiative was first announced, interested parties around the world have been trying to understand what it actually means.  Pessimists have expressed concerns over whether countries will indeed benefit from their participation.  For instance, will the transnational infrastructure projects at the center of the global plan result in impossibly high debt burdens for participating countries?  Optimists, however, predict that these infrastructure projects will promote economic development in less developed countries.  In addition, optimists may argue that China’s need to make the BRI a success following its enshrinement in the Chinese Constitution will help encourage reforms that can benefit all stakeholders.

All of these issues demand long-term commitment to focused research and analysis.  As a result, the CGCP has decided to feature in each issue of China Law Connect (as part of the CLC SpotlightTM Series) a few B&R CountriesTM to show exactly how the BRI is playing out on the ground, along with analyses contributed by interested observers.  By looking closely at how the global initiative is being translated into national policy and how people around the world (e.g., local businesspeople and regular citizens alike) are getting involved, the CGCP will help unearth lessons and reveal the degree to which the BRI’s promise of win-win cooperation will be easy or difficult to achieve in different regions.  The information and analyses shared through the CLC SpotlightTM pieces will also enrich the content of individual B&R CountriesTM pages featured on the CGCP website.

The BRI is an ambitious and complex plan with an expansive scope.  If the initiative is implemented well, China can come to be seen as a truly responsible and respectable global power that can help shape international policy to solve worldwide challenges.  It is the CGCP’s hope that, through the CLC SpotlightTM Series on B&R CountriesTM, the significance of the initiative will be understood, and all stakeholders, including China, can thereby be better informed to find good solutions for tackling legal, business, and other issues arising under the far-reaching initiative.


* The citation of this CLC SpotlightTM is: Jennifer Ingram, China Law Connect and Belt & Road CountriesTM, 1 China Law Connect 75 (June 2018), also available at Stanford Law School China Guiding Cases Project, CLC SpotlightTM, June 2018,  The author thanks Liyi Ye, Associate Managing Editor of the China Guiding Cases Project, for her research support and editorial assistance.

The original, English version of this piece was edited by Dimitri Phillips and Dr. Mei Gechlik.  The information and views set out in this piece are the responsibility of the author and do not necessarily reflect the work or views of the China Guiding Cases Project.

[1] The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization notes that the maritime routes, which came to be known as the “Spice Routes”, were also an important part of this network.  For more information, see About the Silk Road, U.N. Educ., Sci. & Cult. Org.,

[2]《推动共建丝绸之路经济带和21世纪海上丝绸之路的愿景与行动》(Vision and Actions on Jointly Building Silk Road Economic Belt and 21st-Century Maritime Silk Road), issued by the National Development and Reform Commission, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and Ministry of Commerce of the People’s Republic of China, with State Council authorization, on Mar. 28, 2015,

[3] Id. Section VII.

[4] See, e.g., Xi Says Belt and Road Forum Fruitful, Xinhua, May 15, 2017,

[5] The CGCP produces high-quality translations of these cases and publishes them as B&R CasesTM on the CGCP website, at

[6] Over 160 bilateral agreements were signed at the 2017 Belt and Road Forum across the five major “cooperation priorities” of the BRI.

[7] This number only includes those countries explicitly identified as signatories in the List of Deliverables of the Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation, which lists the cooperation agreements signed by representatives attending the 2017 Belt and Road Forum.  Other countries featured or not featured on the Belt and Road Portal may have also signed cooperation agreements at the high-level event but are not specifically identified as signatories in this list.  See, e.g., List of Deliverables of Belt and Road Forum, Xinhua, May 16, 2017,

[8] The regional breakdown is based on the U.N. Statistics Division groupings commonly referred to as the M49 Standard.  Standard Country or Area Codes for Statistical Use, U.N. Statistics Division,

[9] There is no Northern Asia region under the M49 Standard, with Russia being grouped in Eastern Europe.

[10] Annual summits aimed at increasing cooperation between China and Eastern and Southern European countries have been organized since 2012.  For more information, see Coop. Betw’n China & Cent. & E. Eur. Countries,

[11] China specifically invited Latin American countries to join the BRI at the beginning of this year.  See, e.g., Chinese President Calls for Concerted Efforts with Latin America on B&R Initiative, Xinhua, Jan. 23, 2018,