In-Depth

by Malcolm Riddell

'The Threat the U.S. Isn't Answering'

Council on Foreign Relations

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March 31, 2021
'The Threat the U.S. Isn't Answering'
'The Threat the U.S. Isn't Answering'
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BIG IDEA | ‘If BRI meets little competition or resistance, Beijing could become the hub of global trade, set important technical standards that would disadvantage non-Chinese companies, lock countries into carbon-intensive power generation, have greater influence over countries’ political decisions, and acquire more power-projection capabilities for its military.’

‘Beijing’s ability to offer hard and digital infrastructure around the world at low prices is made possible by a combination of political backing from the Chinese Communist Party, the financial power of its state-owned banks, excess capacity in a number of important sectors, and its development of large, highly capable manufacturing and technology companies.’

‘If BRI meets little competition or resistance, Beijing could become the hub of global trade, set important technical standards that would disadvantage non-Chinese companies, lock countries into carbon-intensive power generation, have greater influence over countries’ political decisions, and acquire more power-projection capabilities for its military.’

‘The Task Force assesses that BRI poses a significant challenge to U.S. interests, as it has the potential to displace American companies from BRI countries, set technical standards that are incompatible with U.S. products, push countries to politically align with China, and pressure countries to withhold access to U.S. forces during a potential crisis.’

‘U.S. inaction as much as Chinese assertiveness is responsible for the economic and strategic predicament in which the United States finds itself. U.S. withdrawal helped create the vacuum that China filled with BRI.’

  • ‘Although the United States long ago identified an interest in promoting infrastructure, trade, and connectivity throughout Asia and repeatedly invoked the imagery of the Silk Road, it has not met the inherent needs of the region.’
  • ‘Its own lending to and investment in many BRI countries was limited and is now declining.’
  • ‘Its cutbacks in research and development and investments in advanced technologies have allowed China to move ahead in the development and sale of fifth-generation (5G) technology, the installation of high-speed rail, the production of solar and wind energy, the promulgation of electronic payment platforms, the development of ultra-high-voltage transmission systems, and more.’
  • ‘Despite enjoying a leading role in the World Bank and regional development banks, the United States has watched those institutions move away from backing significant infrastructure projects.’
  • ‘Washington has not joined regional trade and investment agreements that would have enhanced U.S. economic ties to Asia.’

‘These collective shortcomings allowed China to tap into a legitimate need around the world for new infrastructure and to fill the gap in infrastructure financing and construction in a way that benefits it.’

‘The United States has a clear interest in adopting a strategy that both pressures China to alter its BRI practices and provides an effective alternative to BRI—one that promotes sustainable infrastructure, upholds high environmental and anticorruption standards, ensures U.S. companies can operate on a level playing field, and assists countries in preserving their political independence.’

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