More than seven years have gone by since China started its One Belt One Road Initiative (BRI). In 2013 Chinese leader Xi Jinping first introduced this transnational economic belt initiative, then known as the Silk Road Economic Belt and the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road.
The BRI starts in mainland China, moves along the Silk Road, via Central Asia, to Russia and Europe. On the surface, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) is developing new economic cooperation with countries and regions by strengthening infrastructure along the route. The real driving force is CCP’s desire to digest its industrial overcapacity and labor in China, and drive the development of the western region to ensure the energy supply for the mainland. There are also geopolitical and security reasons for the CCP’s One Belt area.
China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan, the six member states in the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), a security alliance, are all on the Silk Road. The five observer states and three dialogue partners of the SCO are also along the Silk Road. In other words, the CCP is actually using its economy and interests to consolidate and strengthen the SCO, which was originally a security treaty. The One Road is to deepen cooperation between China and ASEAN countries and strengthen China’s presence in the South China Sea and the Indian Ocean. As of Jan. 30, 2021, China has signed 205 cooperation documents on the BRI with 140 countries and 31 international organizations.
The CCP started the BRI with the Silk Road Fund. The communist regime initially injected $40 billion for infrastructure, development, and industrial cooperation. In 2017, when the CCP added to the fund again, it was not in U.S. dollars, but 100 billion yuan ($15.3 billion). While promoting the BRI, the CCP also promoted the establishment of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB). In October 2014, 21 countries including China, India, and Singapore formally signed the Memorandum of Understanding on Establishing the AIIB in Beijing. In March 2015, the UK became the first Western country to express its intention to join as a founding member of the AIIB. Subsequently, France, Italy, and Germany also expressed their intention to join. The United States and Japan have refused to join the BRI.
With the unfolding of the BRI, the CCP and Pakistan first carried out a series of large-scale projects, very much the hub and flagship of the Belt and Road Initiative. The China-Pakistan Economic Corridor is 1,850 miles long and has an investment of $46 billion. During Xi Jinping’s visit to Pakistan, China and Pakistan signed cooperation agreements and memorandums on 51 projects. The CCP has also invested $50 billion to build five reservoirs and hydropower stations in the Indus River Basin in Pakistan. This hydropower is claimed to contribute two-thirds of Pakistan’s electricity. China and Pakistan have also actively promoted the construction of the Gwadar-Xinjiang highway corridor, giving the CCP direct access to the Indian Ocean. Later, in January 2018, the Central Bank of Pakistan announced that bilateral trade between China and Pakistan could be settled in RMB, abandoning USD settlement, and opening up the use of RMB to replace USD in financing projects, which also greatly reduced the CCP’s foreign exchange pressure.
In order to increase its influence in the energy sector in Eastern Europe, the CCP has taken the lead in the construction of infrastructure such as ports, roads, railways, and power stations in southeast Europe, and also lends to relevant projects through Chinese banks. China takes the port of Piraeus in Greece as the Balkan Silk Road center and undertakes the combined transportation of goods by sea and land along the route of the BRI. China also intends to invest heavily in energy projects in Eastern European countries such as the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, Bulgaria, and Romania.
Facing Europe, the CCP launched the trans-Eurasia express to strengthen business and trade ties with European countries. The train travels through 28 Chinese cities including Xi’an, Chongqing, Zhengzhou, and Chengdu to 29 cities in 11 European countries including Milan, Moscow, Minsk, and Hamburg. The CCP emphasizes that the express train can save three-fourths over the time at sea and the cost is about one-fifth of that of aviation. However, it deliberately conceals the apparent cost saving of sea transportation and the efficiency of air transportation.
The CCP originally wanted to break through the EU countries in various ways, but Germany, France, Spain, and the UK demonstrated a very high degree of unity to sign the Belt and Road cooperation memorandum together rather than in a bilateral form by individual state. The greater EU’s defense against the CCP’s ambitions was shown as early as 2019.
The CCP’s ambition and its barbaric and domineering mentality were fully demonstrated as the BRI reached the Indian Ocean countries. The CCP led the plan to build a seaport in Hambantota, Sri Lanka. The first phase of the port project started in November 2010. The construction cost was $361 million. The Export-Import Bank of China invested 85 percent of the cost and the port was on lease for 99 years. But later, due to the Sri Lankan government’s inability to repay its debts, Sri Lanka officially handed over Hambantota Port to China under this 99-year lease.
The BRI met resistance from its counter states in Southeast Asia. Prior to the BRI, the CCP tried to strengthen economic and trade ties in the region through the RCEP deal (Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement). After the implementation of the BRI, the CCP sought to build a Trans-Asian Railway to connect China and Southeast Asian countries. However, the doubts and dissatisfaction of Southeast Asian countries toward the CCP are reflected in projects such as the China-Thailand Railway, the Letpadaung Copper Mine in Burma, and the Hambantota Port in Sri Lanka. Leaders of these countries have doubts about the CCP, leading to the continuous overturning and renegotiating of contracts.
The BRI mission has extended from the expansion of the Chinese foreign trade market, exporting excess capacity, exporting the CCP’s infrastructure model, exporting unemployment, and obtaining stable energy supplies, to gradually occupying strategic locations, building geopolitical alliances, uniting Europe against the United States, exporting the communist ideology, and finally promoting communist autocratic rule to the world. It is a comprehensive project with multiple goals in politics, economy, and military. The BRI has signed contracts with 46 countries in Africa, involved 38 countries in Asia, 27 countries in Europe, 12 countries in Oceania, and 19 countries in Central and South America.
The CCP intends to build a new international trade and economic system with its world factory. The CCP denies that the BRI is the Chinese version of the Marshall Plan because it does not have the original intention of the Marshall Plan to support Europe and fight communism. The CCP succeeded in persuading the UK to join the plan because it catered to the concerns of the UK economy caused by the UK’s withdrawal from the EU’s single market and the uncertainty of UK foreign trade.
The United States opposes the BRI because it is clearly trying to drive American power away from the Western Pacific. According to a research report issued by Taiwan’s Ministry of National Defense, the BRI is clearly aimed at U.S. influence in the Pacific and will also strategically marginalize Taiwan. Indian officials have stated that because the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor will pass through Pakistan-controlled Kashmir, the plan will affect India’s interests and territorial claims in Kashmir. India boycotted the BRI forum on May 14, 2017. India also warned other countries of the “unsustainable debt burden” of participating in this plan. A 2018 report from the Center for Global Development indicated that of the 68 countries participating in the BRI, 23 were already heavily in debt, and other eight are at high risk of debt.
What is the correct way to tackle the CCP’s BRI? Are the international community’s counteractions effective?
India has proposed the so-called “Monsoon Project” and “Spice Route Project”; U.S. President Joe Biden suggested a “democratic version of the One Belt One Road” which was ridiculed by Chinese netizens; the UK and the United States will create a global plan aimed at countering the BRI; and the United States and Japan also plan to formulate alternative plans in the Indo-Pacific to counterbalance the BRI.
The U.S.-Japan plan to set a framework for collaboration on 5G wireless, hydrogen power, and smart cities is a move to counteract the BRI. By formulating a clear framework for these enterprises, the two countries hope to win the trust of countries in the region and gain an advantage in the competition with the CCP for influence in the Indo-Pacific region. The United States and Japan hope that this high-quality infrastructure guide, coupled with procurement standards and maintenance rules, can minimize the risk of technology leakage and defeat the CCP. Australia also hopes to join and establish cooperation projects among Australia, Japan, and the United States to promote the stability and prosperity of the Indo-Pacific region.
At the end of March this year, after the United States, the UK, the EU, and Canada imposed sanctions on CCP officials for human rights violations in Xinjiang, the CCP imposed “counter-sanctions” on the European Union, the UK, Canada, and the United States. As the tension between the West and the CCP escalated, the leaders of the United States and the UK expressed that they would unite with democratic countries to launch an initiative to counter the BRI. The details of the plan have not yet been released, but British Prime Minister Boris Johnson agreed on a conference call with Biden to provide hundreds of millions of pounds in support of the initiative. The UK may consider expelling Chinese spies as part of its plan.
A CCP think tank recently recommended that CCP authorities use the pandemic and the BRI to “harvest the dollar hegemony” and “strive to be the center of the world.” It even used the pandemic and the BRI to promote the internationalization of the renminbi and replace the “American Dream.” This clearly shows it is time for comprehensive actions from the international community to fully confront the CCP, completely eliminating the influence of the BRI. It is an urgent task to disintegrate the CCP, the factor that endangers the international economic and trade order, and world peace and stability.
Specifically, the U.S.-Japan countermeasures are only directed at the technical level of 5G and the construction of new energy sources, but this is not enough to stop the CCP’s Huawei from conquering this field. The United States and Japan have the ability and technology to use satellite technologies such as the Starlink project to directly occupy the new 5G and even 6G standards and facilities, leaving the CCP far behind. India’s “Monsoon Project” and “Spice Route Project” lack sufficient teeth and strength, and can at best slow the CCP’s impact in Pakistan, but cannot pose a real threat to the CCP. India needs to join the Indo-Pacific alliance advocated by the United States more actively, launch a full-scale offensive on the CCP, give up its dependence on Russian weapons, fully integrate into the West, and become the market and promoter of the new international trading system. The British plan takes national security into consideration and is commendable. In addition to continuing to pressure the CCP on Xinjiang and Hong Kong, the Western countries should also actively promote Taiwan’s status and power, and make it a free China, the nemesis of the autocratic CCP.
The United States and its allies also need to pursue the CCP in greater depth on the pandemic and the origin of the virus, and even push for compensation to bankrupt the CCP regime. The bankruptcy of the CCP will prevent it from using investment and capital as bait to attract countries, which will carry a heavy burden by joining the BRI. It requires the United States to continue its policy of cutting off the CCP’s economic corruption during the Trump era, continuing tough measures to defeat the CCP in all fields such as tariffs, trade, technology, and human rights.
Frank Tian Xie, Ph.D., is a John M. Olin Palmetto professor in business at the University of South Carolina–Aiken, and a visiting scholar at the National Taiwan University.
Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.