Ulysses McGuinness | February 5, 2018
Responding To: Opportunities and Challenges on the Belt and Road Initiative
China’s Belt and Road Initiative: Is America Jealous?
A bold endeavor by Chairman Xi Jinping that involves more than a trillion dollars and five dozen countries is described by the Economist as the Chinese leader’s “most ambitious foreign policy.” As a rising world power, China aims to expand its influence through commercial partnerships that will offer Europe an alternative to the U.S.-dominated transatlantic trading system. Designs for a "belt" that loops through the Indian Ocean and a "road" that traverses Central Asia and the Baltics create what many have deemed a twenty-first century rendition of the Ancient Silk Road.
The Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) is a major jump from former vice premier Deng Xiaoping’s special economic zones. Whereas Deng’s Open Door Policy enabled proactive foreign investors to develop commercial ties with state-run businesses, the Belt and Road Initiative is of another nature. Far more ambitious, Xi is not merely opening doors for others to come in. He is blasting through every opening available—sending Chinese businesses, people, and influence all over Eurasia.
Despite having the world’s largest economy, the United States cannot compete with the unforeseen growth that has been deemed by experts as the "China miracle." While estimates vary, many predict the Chinese economy will overtake the United States by 2030. Few Americans contest this inevitable switch in GDP dominance. It is possible the Trump administration has chosen to stand on the sidelines of the Belt and Road Initiative in order to avoid offering its resources to what will surely boost the growth of what the president has labeled a "competitor."
In addition to stalling the growth of China’s economy, America’s reluctance to engage in the project also stems from pragmatic reasons. Yes, China’s GDP will soon top the charts. But the United States does not have to worry about the Chinese renminbi replacing the U.S. dollar as the global currency. The People’s Republic of China does not have a free market economy; its blatant lack of transparency means China will never garner the trust of the international market the way the United States can. Moreover, the petroleum trade that will surely dominate the resource-rich central Asian markets planned under the BRI will continue to operate on the U.S. dollar. The United States is already poised to heavily influence the economic activity that the BRI seeks to facilitate.
Still, America must weigh the pros and cons of taking part in the initiative. While stepping back may slow down the project’s growth, Xi Jinping has made it a top priority of his agenda. The project will move forward with or without the United States. It is possible that the Chinese benefit more from a lack of U.S. involvement. The BRI could dilute European investments in the transatlantic trade, potentially hindering the U.S. economy. While America has traditionally approached international organizations in the East with more reluctance than it does to partnerships with Western nations, this trend must change for the sake of economic productivity.
America must capitalize on the opportunities that present themselves, rather than turn a blind eye to its so-called competitors. Similar to how the project will stimulate Chinese economic growth, it will contribute to the U.S. economy. Even if the government steps aside, private corporations and entrepreneurs based in the United States will find themselves operating in these newly established markets. The revenue and production will contribute to America’s economy and influence its net exports, meaning a lack of involvement on behalf of the government does not preclude the BRI from influencing the United States. Moreover, with increasing political and military activity throughout Central, South, and East Asia, it is only logical the Trump Administration fully and openly commit itself to the "Pivot to Asia" strategy set by his predecessor, President Barack Obama.
Of particular significance is the road that travels through Central Asia and the Middle East, a region the United States has long sought to pacify. Rather than foot the bill for expensive and overwhelmingly unsuccessful military and peacekeeping operations, the shared investment on behalf of the BRI’s nearly 70 partners could bring stability and development to the region. The odds that China, the United States, or any nation advocate for Kabul to serve as a major market along the road are slim, but the project will undoubtedly help develop the region as a whole. This development will in turn contribute to the growth of the global GDP.
By not establishing itself as a figure of authority in the creation of this new Silk Road, the United States gains nothing and further weakens its voice in the international community. The pros outweigh the cons, and the opportunities outnumber the challenges. American involvement is inevitable; the real question is not if, but how much, the United States is willing to commit itself to China’s Belt and Road Initiative.
Michael Mullaney is a junior at Georgetown University (C'19) majoring in government with minors in Spanish and Chinese.
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