NEW DELHI (THE STATESMAN / ASIA NEWS NETWORK) – Xi Jinping’s central strategy of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) was unveiled in 2013 as a “ win-win ” initiative in 140 targeted countries across the world.
The infrastructural “network” aimed to open access and create arterial roads to facilitate trade, investment and interconnectivity with China as the epicenter of the initiative.
Bringing together disparate, unfinished and unfinished road / sea / rail projects under one heading was unprecedented in its recklessness, scale and transformational capacity.
The mandate has been extended to digital, 5G networks, fiber optic cable and space arenas to take the realm of possibilities beyond the creation of terrestrial assets.
While the world was still emerging from the great recession of 2007-2009, the major battered economies of the United States, European Union, Japan, etc., struggled to invest in “third world” economies such as before.
Step into China, the oddity that still teemed with investable surplus and an insatiable appetite to invest, and a new “bloc” of Sinosphere loomed on the horizon.
Long before the start of the Covid pandemic saga, Beijing had shown its ability to turn a major global crisis into an invaluable opportunity to nurture its own hegemonic instincts, with its BRI conceptualization.
The Chinese heavyweight of the ‘military-industrial complex’ on the mainland was fueling the muscular reach with its BRI imperatives slated for more than US $ 1 trillion ($ 1.34 trillion), for clearly desperate economies with no options .
Beyond China’s obvious largesse, it was the alleged “ease of doing business” with the Chinese that made the BIS irresistible.
China’s unconditional, no-questions-asked approach imposed no conditionalities on the host country to answer any sensitive questions about democratic freedoms, human rights, transparency, etc., which were generally granted to any potential aid from the donors of the “ free world ” and multilateral organizations.
Some internationally isolated regimes like Pakistan, North Korea, Venezuela, Iran, Bolivia, Myanmar, etc. have been naturally and automatically drawn into the BIS net.
Mega projects like the US $ 62 billion (S $ 83 billion) China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) or the even larger US $ 100 billion China-Myanmar Economic Corridors have emerged from the strategic overlay. of the BIS.
Almost eight years after its announcement, more than an estimated US $ 800 billion has been “ invested ” in infrastructure projects or loans to more than sixty countries, most of which will inevitably struggle to repay needs. of the resulting debt service.
As a result, China’s global “hold” has extended beyond commercial angularities and is playing strategically with the Sinosphere collectively asserting itself with the indebted countries dancing to Chinese tune.
The legs and arms of the legendary “ Chinese century ” became daringly visible as country after country apparently succumbed to the Dragon’s aggressive overtures, through a curious mix of checkbook diplomacy, bailouts, coercion and of intimidating territorial expansion.
Soon the cracks began to appear when recipient countries realized that China’s BRI aid was not so benign, after all.
The growing Chinese footprint from the arid plains of Balochistan to the urban dwellings of Yangon had begun to militate in the eyes of suspicious residents.
Sri Lanka timidly admitted its mistake by swapping its ‘debt trap’ for a 99-year Chinese lease on Hambantota port, just as the Maldives reneged on their original alliances with the Chinese during the rebound with India .
Distant Zambians, Ethiopians and Papua New Guineans have serious doubts about having considered the Chinese option, and even China’s “ all-weather friendship ” with Pakistan has led to whispers to the Pakistani Senate of the CPEC as “ another East India Company ”!
Even as Chinese territorial belligerence and expansionism in the South China Sea, Taiwan, Japan, Bhutan, Nepal and the Indian borders became too visible, it was the Covid-19 pandemic that exposed the machinations and the “ minimization ” which then took its toll. on global economies.
The Chinese are now suffering from a serious reputation crisis and suddenly the BIS doesn’t seem like a godsend after all.
Chinese bait veteran Joe Biden feels the opportunity to play a more fundamental game than waging binary “ trade wars ” that can only further hurt the U.S. economy.
Mr Biden has proposed a multibillion-dollar alternative infrastructure plan to rival China’s BRI.
Like the BRI, it is considering new age investments in areas such as artificial intelligence, biotechnology, quantum computing, etc., which comes from the alternative “bloc” of democratic states!
Potentially, other parallel infrastructural ideas like the “ Blue Dot Network ” to promote infrastructure development in the Indo-Pacific or the Quad formulation (US, India, Japan and Australia) could be interconnected to give l ‘BRI alternative a step ahead, a foundation and an ecosystem on which to build.
While more than 100 countries have already inked various subcomponents of China’s BRI conceptualization – fears of sovereignty erosion, depreciation and inequality have led to an unprecedented fear of ‘aid’ Chinese via the BRI, and therefore the search for a more equitable option, if one exists.
Beyond mobilizing finance for a plausible alternative to the BIS, the patience required to gather and plow so-called “ investments ” and ignore certain sovereign governance issues (for example, the junta takeover in Myanmar has leads the United States to impose punitive sanctions, while the Chinese have rejected it (as “internal affairs”), will test any alternative to the existing BRI.
The United States will need to deploy its more nuanced and holistic DIME (Diplomacy, Information, Military and Economic) approach, instead of invoking a purely militaristic approach to countering the BRI, as the wary world of China needs reassurance. of a committed and sustainable alternative which crosses all the “states of need” of a sovereign nation.
The post-Trump era also left the Biden administration with the daunting task of mending relations with all of its ostensible “ allies ” to begin with, before embarking on the task of pooling resources to create an alternative. at the Chinese BIS.
Not all countries will share the same urgency, fear, or even plausible appetite to join an alternative to the existing BRI which, willy-nilly, involves directly offending the Chinese.
But the conversations have already started, now could not be a better time to pose the idea and bring together parallel streams of initiatives – the alternative to the BRI may not only be doable, but completely inevitable, unless the ‘ “ free world ” does not throw in the towel at the Chinese, completely.
The author is a columnist for the newspaper. The Statesman is a member of Straits Times media partner Asia News Network, an alliance of 23 media entities.