Although China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) began as a projection of Chinese investment and trade in Eurasia, the Maritime Silk Road initiative gave the project global reach. The land and maritime branches would go through more than 140 countries in Eurasia, the Middle East, Southeast Asia and Latin America.
Beijing doubled the bet with the Digital Silk Road and the Polar Silk Road. With its Digital Silk Road project, Beijing seeks to control 5G technology and with it the Internet of Things (IoT) displacing American companies from their dominant position in the digital economy, to begin to remake the rules of the global economy by imposing its hegemony in the coming decades.
Beijing launched BRI when the production of its “private” enterprises, guided by the central planning of the Chinese state, was outstripping domestic demand and its exports to developed end markets were no longer growing. They gambled on increasing their investments and trade with developing economies, guaranteeing themselves access to strategic natural resources and new markets. It is an imperial project in defiance of US hegemony and the current international order.
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By 2027, direct investment in the BRI would total 1 billion 300 thousand million dollars and some 2,600 investment projects associated with the BRI would add another 3 billion 700 thousand million dollars more in the Middle East and Africa. Therefore, between 2013 and 2020, Chinese state banks signed memorandums of understanding for tens of millions in loans to countries considered high-risk by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. Beijing uses this high-risk debt as a “debt trap” to guarantee its access to energy and mineral resources, ideologically, economically and militarily getting in its hand authoritarian regimes and corrupt economic elites. Because, for Beijing, its public and “private” capital is a political and ideological weapon that responds to the orders of the state and the Chinese Communist Party. Chinese private companies are subordinated to the state and the Party by laws that oblige them to operate as agents of Beijing’s internal and external intelligence apparatus.
So Beijing is developing the BRI with an ultimate goal: the internationalization of Chinese priorities by progressively aligning much of the world with its long-term strategic interests. Thus, Beijing employs the BRI as a platform for multilateral cooperation alongside the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank and others, striving to redefine international standards at the United Nations (especially in the digital and telecommunications sectors) to remake the rules of international trade, economics and politics in its image.
China’s 2035 Goal
By 2035 Beijing plans to be the world’s leading standard-setting power with its strategy: China Standards 2035. And as in foreign states, Beijing uses corruption as a tool of influence in multilateral organizations. With a totalitarian power, with the global economic weight and the type of commercial and financial strategies that China uses, we are talking about the global expansion of a capital that is toxic to the institutional framework, the system of law and the freedom of expression of each and every country it enters.
A toxicity that includes Beijing’s conditions for foreign companies to allow them to offshore their manufacturing to China, taking advantage of its lax environmental regulations and relatively cheap labor, or to importing Chinese resources or products, exporting to the protected Chinese market, or invest to produce and selling in China
Beijing’s toxic strategy ranges from buying off the political and business elites of the Third World and the developing West, starting with the United States, to demonstrating its ample capacity for “exemplary punishment” as we saw in 2021, when the Chinese boycott against Lithuania included threats to large German corporations (in Germany, not Lithuania) to “choose” between the Chinese market and their Lithuanian suppliers.
Guillermo Rodríguez is a professor of Political Economy in the extension area of the Faculty of Economic and Administrative Sciences at Universidad Monteávila, in Caracas. A researcher at the Juan de Mariana Center and author of several books // Guillermo es profesor de Economía Política en el área de extensión de la Facultad de Ciencias Económicas y Administrativas de la Universidad Monteávila, en Caracas, investigador en el Centro Juan de Mariana y autor de varios libros