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Published online by Cambridge University Press:  28 June 2021


Studies of China's Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) have focused on the strategic intentions of Beijing, with much less attention paid to its political effects. The argument that the initiative can improve political relationships with BRI countries is assumed rather than empirically grounded. This paper bridges the gap by studying countries’ cooperation and conflict with China. I find that (a) the initiative appears to marginally improve BRI countries’ cooperation and significantly reduce low-intensity conflict; (b) the cooperation-promoting effect is driven only by neighboring countries while the restraining effect for low-intensity conflict results primarily from non-neighboring countries; and (c) there is no systematic evidence so far that the initiative has any effect on high-intensity conflict. These results offer mixed evidence of commercial liberalism in the context of the BRI: money (or the potential thereof) can induce cooperation in the short run, but it may not be enough to fundamentally change interstate relations.

Copyright © The Author(s), 2021. Published by Cambridge University Press on behalf of the East Asia Institute

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