Working paper

Global trends in countries' perceptions of the Belt and Road Initiative

In this paper, we have analysed the sentiment towards the Belt and Road Initiative in the world using a large open-access dataset, namely GDELT.

Publishing date
25 April 2023
Belt and Road Forum


Drawing on global media reports, we conduct a sentiment analysis of the image of China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) and the evolution of its image over time. Our main finding is that perceptions of the initiative deteriorated significantly in many geographies from 2017 to 2022. The notable exception is in sub-Saharan Africa where the BRI’s image remains positive, even if slightly less so than in the past. This is notwithstanding increases in debt levels with China, much of which now face potential restructuring. Furthermore, we find significant inter- and intra-regional differences in the average sentiment towards China’s landmark project, as well as a much worse image of the initiative in countries which, until today, are not part of the BRI. Finally, we focus on the European Union, Africa and China’s immediate neighbourhood to better understand the complexities behind the perceived benefits and challenges associated with China’s Belt and Road Initiative.

The authors thank Grégory Claeys, Mikko Huotari, Matthias Stepan, Marie Le Mouel, Jeromin Zettelmeyer, Séverine Arsène, Alessia Amighini and the participants in a Bruegel event on this topic for their valuable comments.


This is an output of China Horizons, Bruegel's contribution in the project Dealing with a resurgent China (DWARC). This project has received funding from the European Union’s HORIZON Research and Innovation Actions under grant agreement No. 101061700.

EU funded project disclaimer

About the authors

  • Alicia García-Herrero

    Alicia García Herrero is a Senior fellow at Bruegel.

    She is the Chief Economist for Asia Pacific at French investment bank Natixis, based in Hong Kong and is an independent Board Member of AGEAS insurance group. Alicia also serves as a non-resident Senior fellow at the East Asian Institute (EAI) of the National University Singapore (NUS). Alicia is also Adjunct Professor at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology (HKUST). Finally, Alicia is a Member of the Council of the Focused Ultrasound Foundation (FUF), a Member of the Board of the Center for Asia-Pacific Resilience and Innovation (CAPRI), a member of the Council of Advisors on Economic Affairs to the Spanish Government, a member of the Advisory Board of the Berlin-based Mercator Institute for China Studies (MERICS) and an advisor to the Hong Kong Monetary Authority’s research arm (HKIMR).

    In previous years, Alicia held the following positions: Chief Economist for Emerging Markets at Banco Bilbao Vizcaya Argentaria (BBVA), Member of the Asian Research Program at the Bank of International Settlements (BIS), Head of the International Economy Division of the Bank of Spain, Member of the Counsel to the Executive Board of the European Central Bank, Head of Emerging Economies at the Research Department at Banco Santander, and Economist at the International Monetary Fund. As regards her academic career, Alicia has served as visiting Professor at John Hopkins University (SAIS program), China Europe International Business School (CEIBS) and Carlos III University. 

    Alicia holds a PhD in Economics from George Washington University and has published extensively in refereed journals and books (see her publications in ResearchGate, Google Scholar, SSRN or REPEC). Alicia is very active in international media (such as BBC, Bloomberg, CNBC  and CNN) as well as social media (LinkedIn and Twitter). As a recognition of her thought leadership, Alicia was included in the TOP Voices in Economy and Finance by LinkedIn in 2017 and #6 Top Social Media leader by Refinitiv in 2020.

  • Robin Schindowski

    Robin is a Research analyst at Bruegel. His work focuses on the Chinese economy and its interactions with the international economic architecture. In particular, he is involved in the project "Dealing with a resurging China" under the Horizon Europe Fund.

    He studied Contemporary Chinese Studies (BA) at the University of Tübingen - including a semester at Peking University and a semester at Fudan University in Shanghai. He holds a master's degree in Economics from La Sorbonne in Paris and the University of Paris-Saclay, with the second year fully funded as a scholar of the German Academic Exchange Service. He wrote his master's thesis on the impact of patronage networks in the Chinese government on economic outcomes. Between his bachelor's and master's degrees, he worked as an industry consultant at Deloitte Consulting in Germany, where he conducted projects in the field of supply chain management with a regional focus on the Asia-Pacific region.

    Robin is a native German speaker, fluent in English, and full working knowledge of French and Mandarin. 

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Alessia Amighini, Alicia García-Herrero, Michal Krystyanczuk, Robin Schindowski and Jianwei Xu