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belt and road

The Chinese ‘Belt and Road’ Initiative Threatens the U.S. and Its Allies

Belt and Road, the Chinese strategy to dominate global trade and information, which puts the United States at risk.

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With China‘s Belt and Road initiative, the Asian giant seeks to surpass the United States and accelerate world trade by 7.4 trillion dollars by 2040 with a network of physical and digital infrastructure connecting China with the Middle East, Africa, and Latin America.

The United States, however, is focusing on a strategy of multilateral transparency by strengthening ties with its allies, which in the long term will be insufficient to compete against the Chinese structure should it become fully consolidated.

With 140 signatory countries until March 2021, China’s economic and political influence is beginning to affect the hegemony of the United States. To implement the initiative, member countries must make infrastructure investments that conform to Chinese political and legal requirements.

Moreover, the infrastructure is mostly financed with costly debt provided by Chinese banks and 89% of it is developed by Chinese construction giants. Washington has denounced this model, considering that the credits are unpayable, taking into account that many of the signatory countries are low-income.

In vaccine diplomacy, Belt and Road member countries receive assistance from Beijing to contain COVID-19 as a priority. Additional to this, it also targets blockchain as a “fundamental infrastructure for future technological innovation, and in 2020 Beijing launched the Blockchain Service Network (BSN).”

BSN offers software developers “a cheaper alternative to current server storage space offerings.” However, it also allows Beijing to control “network infrastructure in Australia, Brazil, France, Japan, South Africa and the United States.”

Family photo of Xi Jinping at a welcome banquet for the Belt and Road Forum in Beijing. (Image: EFE)

Belt and Road, economic and political risk for America

In the Obama era, the United States played a cooperative role with the Communist Party of China (CPC) by giving the Asian giant leverage to advance an economic and political agenda.

America is losing leadership in crucial fields for the 21st century. The non-existent 5G network development, declining technology patents and overseas technology production has caused America to give ground to Chinese growth.

The U.S. economy contracted by 3.6% due to the pandemic, while the Chinese economy rose by 2.3% in 2020. The global economy is reactivating step by step as the Asian giant advances, giving China a dominant market position, according to economic analysts.

On the other hand, the 18 signatory countries of the Belt and Road Initiative in Latin America are a clear example of the diplomatic ground lost by the United States. American influence is shrinking with the arrival of China in the region. Partner countries of the United States, such as Chile, Brazil, and Peru, are already part of the Chinese network.

If more American allies join Belt and Road to build “critical infrastructure, such as power grids, ports or telecommunications networks, it could complicate America’s contingency planning and make it harder for its allies to defend themselves.”

President of Paraguay, Mario Abdo Benítez, under pressure for the acquisition of vaccines. China intends to pull Paraguay out of its alliance with Taiwan. (Image: EFE)

A consolidation of the Chinese plan, moreover, could continue to exclude American companies and their allies from infrastructure and technology projects. For example, with the Digital Silk Road digital network, China succeeded in establishing its technology giants in “Africa, Central Asia, South and Southeast Asia.”

Digital Silk Road is the digital arm of the Belt and Road initiative. With it, Beijing sets up its technology giants such as Huawei or service giants such as Tencent or Alibaba, to the exclusion of American or Clean Network networks.

A consolidation of the Chinese plan, moreover, could continue with the exclusion of American companies and their allies in infrastructure and technology projects. For example, with the Digital Silk Road digital network, China succeeded in establishing its technology giants in “Africa, Central Asia, South and Southeast Asia”.

Digital Silk Road is the digital arm of the Belt and Road initiative. With it, Beijing sets up its technology giants such as Huawei or service giants such as Tencent or Alibaba, to the exclusion of American or Clean Network networks.

Alternatives to China’s Belt and Road advance

Although the Belt and Road plan boosts international trade, the cost, particularly for developing countries, is very high. In the wake of the pandemic, some countries turned to Beijing to refinance and even forgive some of the loans made to Chinese banks.

The Belt and Road initiative is built with credits that aim to bend the signatory governments, many of them dictatorships, such as Cuba, Venezuela, Bahrain or Myanmar.

U.S. allies aim to develop high-quality, transparent technology and vaccines to compete with Belt and Road and other Chinese strategies. (Image: EFE)

Initially, the Trump administration, in its attempt to curb the indebtedness of developing countries with Chinese banks, denounced Beijing’s ambitions and even informally proposed Taiwan and the World Bank as transparent solutions to achieve infrastructure developments.

Under Trump, the United States became stronger vis-à-vis China in international politics, despite having withdrawn the country from organizations crucial to its allies, such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement.

The previous administration also initiated the Clean Network plan, aimed at creating a transparent, free-information 5G network to counterbalance Chinese technological developments that lack security for nations and individuals.

Sanctions against China for genocide and crimes against humanity, as well as those for intellectual theft and espionage, have aroused the interest of the international community, where America has gained important alliances in Europe and Asia.

Regarding the environment, China’s voracious consumption of low-cost minerals has endangered Latin America, Africa and the Indo-Pacific region with the Belt and Road signatories. In this regard, the United States and private initiatives in Singapore are providing solutions to preserve areas such as the Galapagos in Ecuador or the forests of Papua New Guinea.

In an effort to combat the Chinese advance, South Korea, Japan, India and Taiwan have joined the American initiative for the transparent development of technologies. The CCP poses a threat to these large Asian economies that share America’s democratic values.

The alliance between the United States, Japan, India and Australia, the QUAD (Quadrilateral Security Dialogue) group has launched a series of policies in the face of China’s advance.

For example, the U.S. and Japan will fund 1 billion vaccines to be produced in India and distributed hand in hand with Australia to combat the CCP’s vaccine diplomacy.

Biden expressed, in his first press conference, that the United States will continue to expand while maintaining political and economic leadership.

“I see tough competition with China, they have the overall goal of becoming the leading country in the world, the richest country in the world and the most powerful country in the world. That’s not going to happen on my watch, because the United States will continue to grow and expand,” the American President added.

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