Chinese President Xi Jinping addresses media at the Belt and Road Forum. Beijing, China, May 15, 2017 (Jason Lee/Associated Press)

In May, Chinese President Xi Jinping gave opening remarks to a two-day international forum designed to demystify and attract support for Beijing’s “Belt and Road Initiative.” This estimated $1 trillion investment campaign aims to create extensive new infrastructure and intergovernmental partnerships to deepen global trade in Chinese goods and services and provide China with access to energy and other resources.

The stated intention of One Belt, One Road, as it is also known, is to expand trade and transportation infrastructure with countries on China’s western border under the rubric of reviving the “ancient Silk Road”—a hazy, but evocative reference to the centuries-old network of trade routes that reached into the Mediterranean and sub-Saharan Africa—and expanding it to the Middle East and Europe, while simultaneously building a new “Maritime Silk Road” in Southeast Asia.

Beyond this, Belt and Road will, Xi says, create a “road for peace” and a spirit of “win-win cooperation” with partners across large swaths of Asia, Europe, and Africa. China’s leaders seek to present an ostensibly economic and strategic vision—and one that serves Chinese interests first and foremost—as a much larger normative project to advance “friendship, shared development, peace, harmony and a better future” for all involved.

The full realization of Belt and Road’s concrete-and-steel-based ambitions faces untold challenges in terms of coordinating logistics; attracting ongoing funding; and managing environmental, cultural heritage, and other competing concerns. But Xi’s utopian declarations on peace and security invite even more skepticism than Belt and Road’s economic projections. China’s positioning itself as a new guarantor of regional and international stability fails to address the enormous and very complicated challenges that lie ahead, as well as the potential that its attempts at peacemaking may in fact lead to further destabilization in many areas. Read more