18 May 2017
American Perspectives on the Belt and Road Initiative
By Alek Chance, Institute for China-America Studies
This report is a survey of common views on China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) among American strategic studies and international political economy experts. These observations are placed against the backdrop of BRI’s potential to make significant contributions to global economic development, and they comprise a point of departure for a set of preliminary recommendations for using the initiative to improve the US-China relationship. This report maintains an agnostic position regarding the current strategic intentions behind BRI or its future course. However, the scale, scope, and centrality of BRI to China’s foreign and economic policy all invite an examination of its potential to enhance the US-China relationship, and to identify factors that either might facilitate or stand in the way of realizing this potential.
- BRI is largely regarded among American experts to be a seriously pursued initiative with the potential to significantly impact the economic and political future of Eurasia. However, the overall response to BRI has been ambivalent, with Americans expressing frequent concerns about standards, the adequacy of Chinese development practices, and the erosion of Western development norms.
- Geopolitical concerns significantly frame Americans’ views of BRI. The initiative is sometimes viewed a deliberate attempt to economically marginalize the United States, to create a Eurasian sphere of influence, or as a pretext for expanding China’s overseas military presence. At the very least, perceptions that China is embarking on a new, “assertive” phase of statecraft elevate the scrutiny BRI faces.
- The United States and China should both envision BRI as a vital instrument for strengthening habits of cooperation. BRI must be shaped in a way that places it on the cooperative rather than competitive side of the US-China relationship.
- Chinese experts and policymakers should work to address American (and indeed, global) concerns about the standards and inclusiveness of BRI, and about China’s commitment to existing norms and economic regimes.
- Americans should remain open-minded and flexible about BRI. The US should engage with it where it serves US interests rather than viewing the entire initiative through the often simplistic lens of geopolitical competition.
- The US and China should establish dialogue and collaboration mechanisms focused on exploiting areas of overlapping interests in the BRI domain and to coordinate their different, yet complementary, strengths in development.
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