By Collins Chong Yew Keat 

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia: The 10th Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) Anniversary forum is particularly important for China's President Xi Jinping’s prestige, as this remains his personal brainchild and a projection of his leadership and strategic insight. 
Laden with controversies ranging from its debt trap to it being the ultimate geopolitical strategy in elevating the Chinese Dream and in diminishing the Western order, it now faces a new frontier of challenges and future strategic returns. Beijing also realises that countries are now struggling to pay back the high costs, which will worsen the credit standing of Beijing’s already challenging financial climate.
While Putin led the global leaders to be in this summit, the dwindling relevance of the BRI and rising scepticism have threatened the legacy and reliance by Xi on this domain in boosting his internal acceptance amidst a growing twin challenge of socio-economic downturn and increasing energy, technology and security vulnerabilities.
However, he himself is wary of the future setbacks and potentiality of Beijing being an Achilles heel for Moscow.
While Beijing is eyeing Moscow’s military capacity in distracting the West and continuing the simultaneous two-front open conflict with the West in the future that will ease Beijing’s military dealings with Washington when it comes to Taiwan, Xi is mindful of the danger ahead. 
Food and energy security remain the other vital dependence factors for Beijing, but Moscow as it stands for now will need Beijing support more. Putin tried to align with Beijing’s response to the Fukushima wastewater discharge by joining in to restrict imports of Japanese seafood.
Xi’s BRI Salvation
This reliance on the BRI as the economic tool in moulding these players’ allegiance and in expanding Beijing’s geostrategic umbrella in serving its global expansion and in challenging the West’s dominance has produced intensified returns in the initial phase. However, this momentum is now in jeopardy with Beijing’s own internal systemic economic stumbles, the West’s fightback in restrictions and embargo and values-based courting of these players, and the BRI recipients’ internal discontent and debt realisation. Italy, the only G7 country to have signed up to the BRI, has been considering withdrawing.
The US and other G7 members last year have responded to the BRI by launching the $600 billion Partnership for Global Infrastructure and Investment (PGII).In a recent report published by Boston University, China’s finance institutions provided about $331billion to recipient countries between 2013 and 2021,  and have resulted in many of the recipients being subject to significant debt distress.
Beijing has spent about $240bn bailing out countries who have struggled to repay their BRI debts, according to separate research produced earlier this year.
More than $90 billion worth of Chinese investment in commercial terms in the BRI projects has now been facing insurmountable problems, according to the statistics from the  American Enterprise Institute think tank. Among the issues raised are from outright cancellation to indefinite delays, which are mainly from political requirements and errors by Chinese firms.
China faces pressure from the West and from rising awareness of recipient countries.Key projects will still be maintained, especially on the ones that will give the highest returns to Beijing in the hard power aspect.
In the short run, the Indo-Pacific and South Asia and Southeast Asia in particular, will be key arenas for Beijing both in its BRI and soft power tools and in hard power military step up in serving its two-pronged aim of bolstering its current offensive and defensive capacities in deterring Western threat and responses, and in defending its aims in protecting its interests and bases in the disputed regions and for the ultimate Taiwan reunification.
Beijing will still hope for its Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP)  and push for de-dollarization to mitigate the risks, and for the lukewarm impact of the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework (IPEF) to persistently capitalise on creating the narrative of the structural misplacement of IPEF in focusing on systemic rules rather than the immediate needs and contextual regional differences that play the predominant role in the region choosing the no-strings attached lure of the Chinese capital and support.
This remains a vital tool for Beijing in ensuring it gets the fallback options it needs for key conflict disputes or in preserving current and future ambitions in targeted critical zones including the Indian Ocean, South China Sea and the various new land routes connecting China to the Indian Ocean including the Lao-China high-speed rail project, the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor and the China-Myanmar Economic Corridor.
Beijing has completed BRI deals with more than 150 countries over the past 10 years, with projects ranging from railway infrastructure to ports. Roughly $1tn of investment has been churned out under the BRI but the bulk to the poor countries has peaked years ago.
The future of the BRI is intertwined with Xi’s own regime security foothold, and given China’s current and future financial and economic predicaments, it is not in a position to be lending as huge a sum as before, worsened by the rising resistance. Economic and development shifts in regions are playing an integral factor.
While GDP and PPP measurements have been the main yardsticks in the past in elevating China’s place in challenging America’s might, Beijing itself now is cognisant that future economic returns, the focus on energy and food security and technological supremacy alone will not guarantee the capacity to match or deter combined Western hard power capacities or even in economic resilience.
Economic superiority, lasting financial capacities to finance large scale or a protracted conflict, or advantage in sheer volumes of military assets, missiles or ships alone will not be the only guarantors of confidence in victories or in matching the might of the enemy.
Ingrained military and combat experience, technology superiority and proven impact, and the ability to summon credible and capable allies both in volume and supremacy all remain the ultimate parameters in which the America led West has in its disposal. This fact remains the highest hurdle and headache for Beijing to face, despite the rhetoric of economic might and sabre rattling of soft and hard power elevation and projection.
*Collins Chong Yew Keat is a Foreign Affairs and Security Strategist with Universiti Malaya.*