China’s efforts to forge new economic and diplomatic alliances through its Belt and Road infrastructure initiative are now well known. But Beijing is also extending its presence and power globally in quieter, smaller or surprising ways.
At every point of the compass, Beijing is laying the foundations of its new international order and shaping places and institutions outside its borders in its image.
The Washington Post set out to report on the breadth of China’s ambitions and visit countries where Beijing is successfully building influence and where it has run into difficulty. A global team of reporters and photographers has fanned out across the world to report these stories from Asia, Africa, the Caribbean, Central America and Europe. In four stories published so far this year, The Post has uncovered new details about the tactics China is employing to execute what amounts to a global leap.
Winning friends by training workers
Singapore-based investigative correspondent Shibani Mahtani traveled to Indonesia to report on the accelerating effort by Beijing to wield its companies and educational institutes as an arm of diplomacy. When they were first introduced in 2016, vocational training programs were a component of China’s Belt and Road Initiative. The Chinese-funded and -directed Luban workshops have expanded to 25 countries, emblematic of Chinese leader Xi Jinping’s efforts to extend his country’s soft power, especially in the Global South.
Mahtani investigated how Xi wants to build influence among ethnic-Chinese communities in Southeast Asia, as a way to build support for China’s geopolitical ambitions. But in seeking to incorporate citizens of other countries into its vision, critics say, Beijing is stoking divided loyalties. Concerns are most pronounced in Singapore, a multiracial city-state with a majority ethnic-Chinese population that is increasingly sympathetic to Beijing.
Growing a security presence in the Pacific
Australia bureau chief Michael Miller spent a week in Fiji to report on the fallout from China’s policing agreement with the country and how Beijing can overreach by projecting its police powers overseas, sometimes with little regard for local authorities. China hoped Fiji would be a template for the Pacific, but Fijians soured on some of the police actions, and last year China failed to forge a sweeping security pact with 10 Pacific island nations.
Becoming a leader in biotech and biopharmaceuticals
Reporter Joby Warwick went to Serbia to examine how China has been building a massive database of genetic information from around the world to realize its goal of becoming a leader in biotechnology by 2035. Genetic information — sometimes called “the new gold” — is the crucial ingredient in a scientific revolution that could produce thousands of new drugs and cures. China received an unexpected boost from the coronavirus pandemic, which created opportunities for Chinese companies to distribute gene-sequencing machines and build partnerships for genetic research in places where Beijing previously had little or no access.
Reporting, editing, production and support on China’s Global Leap involved a project team of more than 30 people.