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The Belt and Road Initiative Agreements: Characteristics, Rationale, and Challenges

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  05 January 2021

Heng Wang*
Affiliation:
Professor and Co-Director of Herbert Smith Freehills China International Business and Economic Law (CIBEL) Centre, Faculty of Law, University of New South Wales, Sydney

Abstract

The Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) has brought with it an unprecedented number of agreements. BRI agreements consist of primary agreements (particularly MOUs) and secondary agreements (like performance agreements). They are a distinct, landmark feature of the BRI. Focusing on primary agreements and their close link with secondary agreements, this paper explores the following questions: What are the legal status and characteristics of primary agreements? Why are they adopted by China? What challenges do they face? BRI primary agreements can be regarded as a form of soft law, but that repurposes soft law characteristics for project development rather than rule development. BRI primary agreements have the following unique characteristics: (i) minimal legalization, (ii) a coordinated, project-based nature, and (iii) a hub-and-spoke network structure. While BRI primary agreements benefit from the advantages of soft law (e.g., reduced contracting costs, flexibility), they face challenges including those concerning underlying interests and their effectiveness.

Type
Original Article
Copyright
Copyright © The Author(s), 2020. Published by Cambridge University Press

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204 See, e.g., Xiong and Tomasic, ‘Soft Law, State-Owned Enterprises and Dispute Resolution on PRC's Belt and Road’, 1028 (‘very sparse’ information concerning the financing of BRI projects).

205 See, e.g., D. Dollar (2019) ‘Understanding China's Belt and Road Infrastructure Projects in Africa’, Global China, 2 September.

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208 Krisch, ‘International Law in Times of Hegemony’, 379.

209 Hamzah, ‘Legal Issues and Implications of the BRI’, 23, 24.

210 Petersmann, ‘International Settlement of Trade and Investment Disputes Over Chinese “Silk Road Projects” Inside the European Union’, 53, 54, 65.

211 Meyer, T. (2012) ‘Towards a Communicative Theory of International Law’, Melbourne Journal of International Law 13: 921, 936Google Scholar.

212 Decision of the CPC Central Committee on Major Issues Pertaining to Comprehensively Promoting the Rule of Law, Part 7.7 (2014); Chatham House (2017), China and the Future of the International Legal Order, www.chathamhouse.org/file/china-and-future-international-legal-order.

213 Wang, Heng (2020) ‘Selective Reshaping: China's Paradigm Shift in International Economic Governance’, Journal of International Economic Law 23: 583–606CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

214 For instance, it is observed that 35.1% of China's construction projects under the BRI adopt Chinese standards, higher than the proportion of other standards. Ying Qin et al., The Application of China's Construction Standards Along the Belt and Road Initiative, www.cecs.org.cn/xsyj/zdkt/10424.html.

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