The Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) is China’s most significant strategic move for engagement with its partners following its accession to the World Trade Organization (WTO). As a new form of regional multilateralism, the BRI is a hub-and-spoke network with China as the hub.

This paper analyses China’s approach to the BRI from a legal perspective, focusing on two questions: first, is there an identifiable approach that China adopts in the BRI context; and second, what is the essence that underlies this project? The article argues that China’s approach to the BRI has three primary qualities, it is;

  1. less-institutionally focused;
  2. non-treaty- based; and
  3. proactive rather than reactive.

However, the stability of these characteristics across different contexts should not be exaggerated, since China chiefly employs a “middle-of-the-road” strategy in engaging with the BRI. Flexibility is arguably the essence of China’s approach, and reflects the government’s adaptive attitude. Such a path not only diverges from China’s engagement with the WTO, but also could constitute a kind of Chinese counter-model to deep trade agreements pursued by developed economies.

Preprint by Heng Wang.