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Assessing the Influence of China’s Belt and Road Initiative

DECUR Partnership

Year selected for award: 2022

Assessing the Influence of China’s Belt and Road Initiative in Local Communities at Global Scale

Co-Principal Investigators: Kenneth Joseph, University at Buffalo and T. Camber Warren, Naval Postgraduate School

Years of Award: 2022-2024

Managing Service Agency: Office of Naval Research

Project Description: 
The People’s Republic of China (PRC) increasingly aims to use informational effects to increase their power on the global political stage. In recent years, Chinese influence operations have increasingly been designed to disrupt these ties through soft power narratives emphasizing economic development. A central component of these efforts has been the PRC’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), an unprecedented multi-trillion dollar investment campaign spanning over 140 countries.  While the BRI is the subject of growing concern for U.S. policy makers, little is known about the soft power effects generated amongst the local communities most directly impacted by BRI investment projects. A key barrier to understanding these dynamics is that BRI investment projects are often conducted in difficult-to-access environments.  

A second, related challenge is that the computational tools traditionally used for assessment of the information environment are often not directly applicable in such settings.  This leaves the U.S. national defense community largely in the dark regarding the local impact of PRC influence operations in much of the world. We aim to transform this situation via the construction of computational social science methods and tool sets that allow researchers and domain experts to co-construct an understanding of the local impacts of BRI investments in these difficult-to-access environments. Our new methods and tools aim to transform the current opacity of PRC gray zone activities, providing the defense community with radically enhanced capabilities for the assessment of the strengths and weaknesses of Chinese soft power amongst local communities in difficult-to-access environments.