CSIS on Reconnecting Asia
“With the fall of the Bamboo Curtain in Asia and of the Iron Curtain in Europe, the progressive economic integration of the Greater Eurasian supercontinent became possible and by now it has become seemingly inevitable,” says Dr. Johannes Linn from the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS).
Originally called One Belt, One Road, the Belt Road Initiative (BRI), launched by Chinese President Xi Jinping in 2013 is a strategic national development initiative, including 65 countries, 4.4 billion people, and about 40 percent of the global GDP. China seeks international cooperation using the overcapacity of materials to build infrastructures in countries that need such construction, and to promote its own business and technology. Yet, most importantly it desires to show the world its power and fast paced development. Without the presence of the United States in the blueprint of BRI, many critics feel ambivalent towards BRI and its ultimate goal. Some even see it as “China’s desire to take America on and claim global pole position”.
Therefore, in addition to the multiple leadership positions that Xi holds in China’s Central Party Committee, he is now also China’s “Story Teller in Chief” for his ambitious Initiative. As BRI has been expanding, it has gained success in partnering with certain countries. However, there are still concerns and uncertainties regarding BRI circulating in the media and the international arena.
CSIS’ critique of China’s High-Speed Rail (HSR) exemplifies one of the negative perceptions imposed on BRI’s infrastructure projects: “incompetent or ill-meaning aspiring hegemon.” Although the low cost, new technology make the “made in China” slogan of HSR favorable in many ASEAN countries such as Indonesia and Vietnam, some see it as a tool to obtain political concessions from the host countries or as a clear economic burden for them.
At the same time, although the BRI has obtained much spotlight and international attention, competitors are emerging. Japan’s president, Shinzo Abe, visited India earlier this month, where a bullet train built with Japanese financing and technology will connect Mumbai and Ahmedabad. In the CSIS database, Japan is surpassing China on transportation projects in six out of nine Southeast Asian countries. Yet their difference is little, and China has won more projects in Cambodia, Laos, and Malaysia.
Concluding, the Western viewpoint of BRI remains doubtful and cautious. Americans are still watching for new actions and the influences that they could have on the U.S. as a superpower. The apparent signal that the Chinese and President Xi are delivering is China’s ambition of showing its growing dominance in the world. Furthermore, should the BRI continue to grow, the world’s geological and economic structures are destined to be transformed and altered.