China’s Belt and Road Initiative Is Faltering, but Threats Remain, Experts Say
China’s Belt and Road Initiative, a global infrastructure development strategy, is receiving renewed scrutiny as it enters its 10th year, with observers noting that the initiative appears to be faltering amid reports of incomplete bridges, roads to nowhere, and increasing debt. Despite the setbacks, experts remain concerned that China is nonetheless forging ahead with achieving “malicious” military and financial goals through the initiative.
The Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) began in 2013 under Chinese President Xi Jinping, who described the effort as “a bid to enhance regional connectivity and embrace a brighter future.” It currently encompasses the participation of 153 countries, including the vast majority of Africa, most of Asia and eastern Europe, and a number of countries in Central and South America.
While the BRI’s goal was purported to “enhance overland and maritime trade routes better linking China with Asia, Europe and Africa,” a Forbes report described the project as “a euphemism for wasteful spending, environmental destruction and untenable debt,” in which some countries have fallen into a “debt trap” with China in which they are unable to repay Chinese loans and are forced to give up sea ports to the communist regime. In addition, a 2017 study found that “between 60% to 80% of Chinese companies in Africa admitted to paying bribes.”
Gordon Chang, distinguished senior fellow at the Gatestone Institute, joined “Washington Watch with Tony Perkins” on Tuesday to discuss the current status of the BRI and unpack China’s objectives with it.
“[T]here are a number of factors at work here, and one of them is that China works through corruption, and so they have bribed elites in countries to engage in the Belt and Road program,” he observed. “The big underlying point here is that China was building infrastructure that the private sector just generally shunned as uneconomic. … China’s goal was to extend its geopolitical influence. Countries, on the other hand, had a very different goal, which was to get infrastructure. … [R]ight now in Beijing, there’s a lot of handwringing because people there think that the Belt and Road plan doesn’t really benefit China the way that they had originally contemplated.”
However, Chang warned that there are still many reasons to be concerned about China’s ambitions behind the BRI.
“[The BRI] threatens the United States,” he cautioned. “For instance, there’s a Belt and Road project in Freeport in the Bahamas that’s within 90 miles of Palm Beach. That project is not working out very well, and that means we could see China take it over, which means that it could become a Chinese naval base within 100 miles of Florida. So these are the things that we always have to be concerned about, because China’s geopolitical goals, as we know, are malicious.”
Chang went on to note that the ideologies dominating the Biden administration’s foreign policy, such as abortion and LGBT activism, are causing many foreign countries to shun American aid and instead turn to China.
“[E]specially in conservative Africa, you have not only Christianity, but also generally you have this notion of traditional values,” he explained. “And the United States is pushing these countries to do things which they certainly find abhorrent. … [This] means that these countries have a hard choice, and many of them have chosen China, because … China has corrupted the elites to start these Belt and Road projects, which means the United States is even further behind in Africa than we need to be. And that is directly traceable to Biden’s social policies that Africans abhor.”
Chang further pointed out that the U.S. is currently accruing more debt by indirectly helping other countries pay back their BRI loans to China through the International Monetary Fund (IMF), of which the U.S. is a major funder.
“[T]he IMF is coming in to bail out some of these countries that owe money to China … that’s really a bailout of China. So, for instance, in Pakistan, where you have negotiations right now on the Belt and Road, China has this $60 billion China-Pakistan economic corridor. Some of the projects make sense, many of them don’t. Pakistan can’t pay it back, and it’s going to be the United States bailing out China, and that is just absolutely wrong.”
Perkins contended that “if it were not for the United States backing [China] up financially … indirectly through the International Monetary Fund and through our trade deficit with them, they wouldn’t be able to do this.”
Chang concurred. “It is U.S. trade, investment, [and] technical cooperation that has fueled China’s rise. We are directly responsible for it, and this is morally wrong. China is preparing to kill Americans — that’s what it’s doing with its military. And also it’s committing genocide and crimes against humanity in not only Xinjiang, which is the northwest part where the Uyghurs and the Kazakhs are, but also in Tibet. So it is just morally wrong for us to do this.”
Chang concluding by urging American companies to cease doing business with China.
“American business should not be in China for a number of reasons, but the Biden administration is dog whistling for them to stay,” he argued. “That means we are providing [them with a] critical source of funds. Essentially what we are doing is giving them the confidence to continue their malicious policies against the U.S. They make it very clear that they view us as an existential threat and that they have to destroy America because they are worried about the inspirational impact of our values and our form of governance on the Chinese people. So there is no amicable relations we can have with China over the long term.”
Dan Hart is senior editor at The Washington Stand.