The Central Asia Data-Gathering and Analysis Team (CADGAT) published eight new data reviews in 2019.

These eight data reviews present a detailed overview of 261 Belt and Road (BRI) and bilateral Chinese projects in Central Asia (Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan), covering rail and road connectivity, energy connectivity, trade and industrial development (mineral and petroleum exploration, industry, finance and IT, agriculture and food) and people-to-people projects.

An overarching database on China’s projects in Central Asia was also made freely available online. Every project is recorded in detail and categorized in the following dimensions: timing, financing, geography and scope, involved partners, strategic or commercial significance and connection to BRI.

BRI - a controversial concept

One of the main observations from the study is that concept of BRI is controversial and subject to different interpretations both by Chinese and local stakeholders in Central Asia.

Many projects that are not officially not part of BRI, “are still frequently branded as belonging to it, either to showcase a particular project’s significance or success or to simply attract more attention to it.”

Bilateral projects framed as BRI

The majority of Chinese projects in Central Asia are bilateral even though many of them are often framed and publicly announced as part of regional BRI-related initiatives.

In terms of the number of projects, trade and industrial development is the main sector followed by roads and energy. And yet, in terms of total funding, energy receives more funds than roads. Along with financing hard infrastructure projects, China is also promoting soft infrastructure initiatives in the form of people-to-people projects. However, such projects are underprioritized within BRI in Central Asia and the Confucius Institutes are still weakly linked to BRI.