The Emperor’s New Road: China and the Project of the Century





China’s Belt and Road Initiative is the world’s most ambitious and misunderstood geoeconomic vision. To carry out President Xi Jinping’s flagship foreign-policy effort, China promises to spend over one trillion dollars for new ports, railways, fiber-optic cables, power plants, and other connections. The plan touches more than one hundred and thirty countries and has expanded into the Arctic, cyberspace, and even outer space. Beijing says that it is promoting global development, but Washington warns that it is charting a path to global dominance.

Taking readers on a journey to China’s projects in Asia, Europe, and Africa, Jonathan E. Hillman reveals how this grand vision is unfolding. As China pushes beyond its borders and deep into dangerous territory, it is repeating the mistakes of the great powers that came before it, Hillman argues. If China succeeds, it will remake the world and place itself at the center of everything. But Xi may be overreaching: all roads do not yet lead to Beijing.

“Hillman takes us on a wonderfully engaging journey along China’s Belt and Road. He weaves together fresh insights from on-the-ground interviews across the Eurasian continent with fascinating historical references to provide the definitive account of this grand-scale initiative that challenges our understanding of traditional geopolitical and strategic boundaries.”

—ELIZABETH C. ECONOMY, author of The Third Revolution

"For all the hype and hand-wringing over how the [Belt and Road] could usher in the Chinese century, Hillman’s engaging mix of high-level analysis and fieldwork in more than a dozen countries paints a much more nuanced picture."

- KEITH JOHNSON, Foreign Policy

"Jonathan Hillman’s new book offers a reality check on Beijing’s global infrastructure project . . . No mere desk-bound theoretician, he provides personal accounts of visits to key projects across Africa and Asia, struggles with bureaucracy and mutual suspicion at China’s borders, bringing all their logistics to life.” 

- PETER NEVILLE-HADLEY, South China Morning Post 

The Emperor’s New Road is a small book that shows the industriousness of a big one: a complex blend of travel, history, politics, and economics about the greatest long-running geopolitical story of our time, China’s new Silk Road. It shows the big picture as well as the vital, ground-level details.”

—ROBERT D. KAPLAN, author of The Return of Marco Polo’s World and The Revenge of Geography

“China’s Belt and Road is reshaping the world’s economic and strategic landscape, and in this sweeping and thought-provoking tour, Jonathan Hillman reveals the gaps between Beijing’s grand rhetoric and ground reality. Required reading for the C-Suite and the Situation Room.”

—STEPHEN J. HADLEY, former U.S. National Security Advisor

“An outstanding book by one of the most interesting and original thinkers about the rise of China, the Belt and Road Initiative, and what both mean for the rest of the world. Filled with insights into the changing world of the twenty-first century— essential reading.”

—PETER FRANKOPAN, author of the international bestseller The Silk Roads: A New History of the World

“Jonathan Hillman offers an insightful contribution that helps cut through the noise on one of the most important projects of China’s foreign policy.”

—GRAHAM ALLISON, Harvard Kennedy School of Government

Jonathan E. Hillman