an initiative using human and artificial intelligence to track development, security, and diplomatic activities around the world

Introducing the BRIGHT Project

Matthew Crittenden, Caroline Morin, Kate Munkacsy, Greyson Pettus, Emily Maison, Monica Alicea, Maya Deutchman, Remy Fritz, and William Weston


The Belt Road Initiative Geospatial and Headline Tracking project is a data-driven effort to boost transparency and accuracy of data on Chinese finance and diplomacy in Latin America and the Caribbean. This first release of BRIGHT employs a mostly human-driven three-step methodology of triangulating open-source information, systematically cataloguing valuable data, and geocoding activity locations to provide a text and spatial-based perspective of Chinese engagement. Explore the data in our dashboard or download it for your own use; the only requirement for use is acknowledgement. Continue reading below for a breakdown of the main takeaways from the data.

Inaugurated in September 2013, China's Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) is a series of infrastructure investments and diplomatic endeavors. The multi-billion dollar initiative attempts to stimulate economic growth in recipient countries, facilitate global trade, and foster new diplomatic relationships. The BRI has received international criticism for its promotion of "debt-trapping diplomacy," or infrastructure projects with high loan values that recipient countries are unable to pay back. However, the exact impact and extent of the BRI is unclear because China has classified portions of the BRI as a state secret. Thus, our analysis seeks to further chart the extent of the BRI in Latin America and the Caribbean and comprehend the impacts.

Varied Quality of Construction Projects

The most visible negative impacts of the BRI are the quality and schedules of projects. Some projects prioritize efficiency over quality. While these projects may be completed on time or ahead of schedule, the poor quality of the projects causes high long-term maintenance costs. Other projects are significantly delayed, with construction implementation occurring multiple years behind schedule or announcing no known projected completion date.

Often Underused or Congested Connective Infrastructure

China's BRI is heavily focused on specific economic corridors connecting China to other locations in the world, in line with China’s goal of increasing global trade. None of these announced economic corridors interact with Latin America or the Caribbean. Still, the concept of connective infrastructure, the construction of transportation infrastructure linking locations, has been applied to this region.

In the Caribbean, this has manifested in the vast construction of ports, because waterways are critical to economic development, trade, and transportation. Some of these ports have successfully increased the capacity of the given area to process economic transactions. Other ports are not geographically connected to other significant infrastructure, like a road, thus limiting the port's ability to operate at full capacity.

Sometimes Sustainable Energy, Sometimes Not

In May 2017, China announced the "Green BRI," signifying that the BRI would strive to emphasize sustainable development and environmental protection. While sustainability is important for all infrastructure projects, it is most notable in energy projects. Investing in high-carbon emitting fuel sources, like fossil fuels, can lock an area into a non-renewable energy source for an extended period of time. In contrast, meeting the need for increased energy production with a low-carbon emitting source both ensures energy security in the area and protects the environment.

However, not all low-carbon emitting fuel sources are environmentally friendly. Hydropower dams can negatively impact the surrounding environment by changing water flow patterns, increasing deforestation, creating erosion, and changing the ecological balance. For the "Green BRI" to promote sustainable development, infrastructure projects must emphasize both low-carbon emitting techniques and environmental protection.

Telecommunications Network Expansion

China's Huawei is at the world’s center of 5G network and expansion. In Latin America and the Caribbean, 5G deployment has been minimal. However, China’s BRI, in conjunction with privately-owned Chinese companies, have been expanding the capacity and extent of telecommunications networks in the region. This includes both the introduction of 3G and 4G technologies to areas, and bringing telecommunications networks to previously inaccessible areas.

Conclusion and Next Steps

BRIGHT aims to promote transparency and accuracy of data on Chinese finance and diplomacy in Latin America and the Caribbean. As we continue to explore this region, we will likely continue to add new countries to our dataset. So far, our methods have relied mostly on human intelligence through the pilot phase of BRIGHT. Moving forward, we are experimenting with natural language processing and other forms of artificial intelligence to boost our data production capacity and to redirect more human resources to the analysis of said data. Expect a more robust version 2.0 of the BRIGHT dataset sometime in 2021 and look out for future pieces published here by SCOPE.