Foreign Policy

Why China's Belt and Road Initiative Matters

China is hungry to play an expanding role on the world stage and is willing to spend a lot to do it.

Todd Johnson · May 25, 2018

Today, most U.S. print and television media outlets are focusing their attention on President Donald Trump’s decision to cancel the summit with North Korean leader Kim Jung-un. While the story definitely merits significant attention, there is another important development in the region that seems to be capturing more and more coverage and has the potential of not only affecting the political and economic stability of the Far East but the whole world.

Ever since it was announced over five years ago, the Belt and Road Initiative (B&R) has turned into a multi-trillion-dollar bet by Xi Jinping’s regime that it can shake up the world economic order while simultaneously gaining influence in East Asia, Europe, Middle East and Africa. Recently heralded by a Chinese government official as a program that, “promote(s) a balanced and sustainable global growth” the B&R continues to gain momentum as the 21st century Silk Road.

While some advocates of the program, especially key United Nations leaders, have been vocal in their support of the Chinese plan, the facts are starting to show that the B&R is having major problems and Western democracies, primarily the United States, are missing the opportunity to capitalize on the Chinese government’s poor decision-making, both economically and diplomatically.

In the latest issue of Foreign Affairs magazine, a trio of writers argue that Western banking institutions need to seize the opportunity to work with countries that want to develop internal infrastructure instead of ceding the business to the Chinese government. The current “hands off” approach being implemented by Western lending institutions has enabled Chinese banks to fill the gap and, in the process, laid the groundwork for predatory lending practices being implemented by Beijing.

It’s no secret that China is hungry to play an expanding role on the world stage and is willing to spend massive amounts of capital in the process. Jinping’s government is an aggressive adversary of the United States when it comes to implementing economic policy and the B&R campaign is a well-laid plan to exert dominance in that realm. Examples abound of China’s desire to unseat the United States economically, whether it be vaulting to number one as the world’s largest exporter of oil or the city of Shenzhen rapidly becoming a near peer to Silicon Valley in the tech sector.

Understanding this dynamic is critical if the United States wants to maintain its role as the dominate global hegemon. Rather than focus on short-term solutions against China, like tariffs, the current administration needs to focus on developing and implementing long-term economic and diplomatic policies that will not only benefit the United States but also the country where the project is located. President Trump knows better than anyone in the federal government the importance of developing infrastructure, both domestically and internationally. His administration, in concert with our allies, must work with developing nations wanting to create new projects or run the risk of seeing them partner with China. A failure to do this not only puts the United States at risk but the rest of the world as well.

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