China Connects: Methodology

The China Connects dataset represents Chinese connectivity-related infrastructure and investments that have taken place outside of China and involved at least one Chinese stakeholder. The dataset covers 173 countries and four territories.

The dataset consists of officially labelled Belt and Road Initiative and Digital Silk Road projects. These are infrastructure and digital connectivity projects that China’s central government, ministerial agencies or state media have recognized as falling under the broader BRI enterprise launched in 2013.

The dataset further includes infrastructure projects that are not officially labelled as part of the Belt and Road Initiative. These are projects that Chinese stakeholders have undertaken since 2010 — in response to Beijing’s overseas infrastructure campaign — but for various reasons have not received explicit endorsement from the Chinese state. China Connects presents these projects as ‘BRI-like’ to distinguish them from the BRI and to provide a comprehensive view of Chinese infrastructure-building activities around the world.

Similarly, Digital Silk Road projects are represented from 2000 to 2020 in order to encompass China’s global digital infrastructure investments preceding the relatively recent launch of the ‘Digital Silk Road’ initiative. Users will thus be able to analyse how Chinese global digital investments have crossed various generations of technology development.

A team of IISS researchers fluent in Mandarin, English, French, Italian, Arabic, Spanish, German and Japanese compiled the dataset based on open-source primary and secondary sources, including government and industry documents and media reporting. Information for each project is triangulated. A minority of cases have fewer than three sources listed, due to insufficient publicly available information.

The Digital Silk Road dataset is current through December 2020. The Belt and Road Initiative dataset is current through December 2021. An update of included data is scheduled for Autumn 2022.

Data points

Each of the data points visualised on the interactive platform represents one project. Clicking a project data point reveals a pop-up box including the project status (planned, ongoing, completed, halted, cancelled), the project category, the recipient country, the project start year, the total cost where available, and the involved Chinese companies and contractors.

Projects are pinned to their geographic location based on available information. Projects representing a nationwide investment or signed agreement are pinned to the recipient country’s capital city. Linear projects such as roads, highways and railways are pinned to according to their point of origin.

The interactive pin is colour-coded according to the project type and the status of the associated project, with darker shades of colours indicating more advanced stages of project completion. The more transparent the icon colour, the earlier projects are in their stage of completion. The map also features lines representing submarine cables that include Chinese stakeholders. These are colour-coded according to individual cable networks.

Project start years were determined according to ground-breaking for construction projects. For projects that have not yet begun construction, or for projects that do not involve on-the-ground works, the start year reflects the signing of project agreements.

Project categories cover the following areas, which are represented graphically on the associated pin:

Belt and Road Initiative Projects Airport
Energy Transmission Infrastructure
Health Silk Road/ E-Health
Investment in Raw Materials
Power Generation (Fossil Fuel)
Power Generation (Low Carbon)
Special Economic Zones
Trade Agreement/MoU
Digital Silk Road Projects 5G
Academic Programmes
Data Centre
Fibre Optic Network Technology
People-to-People Connection Programmes
Satellite Technology
Security Information System
Smart City
Submarine and Overland Fibre Optic Cables
Transfer of Knowledge/Technology


Data may be visualised according to Chinese company stakeholders, project type, project status and time period. Map layers and the visualisation of pins may also be customised.

Companies/Contractors: Projects may be filtered according to Chinese stakeholder companies and contractors involved in mapped connectivity projects. Users can select or deselect companies from this list or search company names using the search field. Pop-up boxes contain more detailed lists of company subcontractors and subsidiaries and government-sponsored entities.

Projects: Project categories are divided according to their inclusion in the Belt and Road Initiative or the Digital Silk Road. These project types may be selected or deselected to reveal associated pins.

Project Status: The list allows users to filter the dataset according to the status of projects as planned, ongoing, completed, halted or cancelled. Status labels will be up-to-date from the last time data was refreshed. Projects will only be considered cancelled when official government or company notices are available.

Timeline feature: The timeline, located below the map, allows users to view an automated population of all projects in the dataset over time according to project start year. If filters are selected, only these projects will be shown. Dragging the timeline bar will specify a time period for displayed pins.

Layers/Map:The map will automatically load on the street layer and with pins clustered according to localities. These settings can be changed to view pins individually or to view topographical and satellite imagery. Please be aware that individual pins may stack according to shared geographic location.

Additional Information Available on Request

The tool does not visualise all data from IISS China Connects. Users can request further information via the IISS China Connects mailbox concerning the following elements of our dataset:

  • Financial information: including total cost, financing model, volume of financing by stakeholder and project ownership
  • Project Evolution and Pushback: including information about pushback in recipient countries or by third parties, subsequent policy changes and potential for renegotiation.

Indicator Data

The online visualisation tool also provides users with yearly World Bank data on each country's economic, governance and connectivity indicators. Indicator data allows users to explore BRI and DSR recipient countries’ sovereign debt and digital connectivity condition and examine how these conditions have evolved as BRI and DSR projects took hold. Users can access this data by selecting a country from the map. Click again on the country highlighted in the map to remove the display.

Essays and Analysis

Find IISS publications related to the analysis of Chinese connectivity, the Belt and Road Initiative, and Digital Silk Road here.