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China's One Belt One Road Initiative: An American Response to The New Silk Road

By Dr. Gal Luft - co-director of the IAGS and a senior adviser to the United States Energy Security Council

China's Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) is not only the most ambitious and all-encompassing economic development project in the history of humanity but also the core of what is likely to be China's grand strategy for the twenty-first century. It aims to connect China and Europe in a web of roads, high-speed rail, power lines, ports, pipelines, fiber-optic lines and other infrastructure with the goal of stimulating growth in the scores of developing countries in between. New maritime trade corridors provide China with new shipping alternatives while offering its less developed western, northern and southwestern provinces easier access to new markets. While the initiative offers China great strategic and economic benefits it also offers hope to the struggling economies of Europe, Asia and Africa.

Yet, despite the magnitude and promise of the initiative and its interface with almost every region in which the United States has strategic interests – the Middle East, South China Sea, India-Pakistan, Eastern Europe and Central Asia to name a few – Washington has largely ignored it, and in some cases it even took active measures to undermine it. This course of action is wrong. With the BRI territory accounting for seventy percent of the world's energy and almost all of the world's Muslim countries, many of them vulnerable, politically unstable, financially embattled and perplexed by perceived American atrophy, Washington's response to the creation of what could become by the middle of the century the world's largest economic zone will determine to a large extent not only the future of the U.S.-China relations but the fate of the global system writ large. With the global economy facing a potentially prolonged deep freeze and with hundreds of millions of Asians still disconnected from the global market with little hope of rising from poverty, Washington should recall that, like it or not, its fate is interlinked with that of the developing world, and it should thus at the very least give its blessing to those who offer relief. Instead of snubbing the BRI the United States should consider ways to embrace those parts of it that correspond with its geopolitical rationale and ideological worldview while staying away from those BRI elements that undermine its strategic interests. This option leaves the United States with sufficient maneuverability yet it positions it as a willing and pragmatic team player rather than a spoiler. The following recommendations should be considered:

  • Adjust the Washington bureaucracy to deal with the BRI's vastness and complexity
  • Form a dedicated mechanism to engage with china on BRI matters
  • Carve out a role for America
  • Join the Asian infrastructure investment bank (AIIB)
  • Define red lines
  • Initiate transatlantic coordination on the BRI
  • Promote U.S.-Chinese understanding at sea
  • Leverage the U.S Role in multilateral development banks and international organizations
  • Craft a red, white and blue development agenda
  • Cease fire in the war on coal

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