Considered ‘peripheral’ in Chinese foreign policy, Melanesia has nevertheless experienced a steady growth in Chinese interests this century, particularly leading up to APEC 2018. This interest brought with it the Belt and Road Initiative – China’s economic quest for global influence, and the public face of China’s grand strategy. Drawing on research from 2017 and 2019, this article examines what changed after PNG joined the BRI in June 2018. It consults a range of well-informed Chinese and PNG perspectives to discern what the BRI means for Melanesia and how Melanesians are responding to it. Is this economic development, geoeconomic influence or both?