The BRI Alternative – The Statesman

Xi Jinping’s central Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) strategy was unveiled in 2013 as a “win-win” initiative for 140 targeted countries around the world. The infrastructure “network” was aimed at opening up access and creating arterial roads to facilitate trade, investment and interconnectivity with China as the epicenter of the initiative. Bringing together disparate, unfinished and unfinished road / sea / rail projects under one heading was unprecedented in its recklessness, scale and transformative capacity.

The mandate has been extended to digital networks, 5G, fiber optic cables and space arenas to expand the realm of possibilities beyond the creation of terrestrial assets. While the world was still emerging from the Great Recession of 2007-2009, the major battered economies of the United States, the European Union, Japan, etc., struggled to invest in “third world” economies such as previously. Step into China, the oddity that was still teeming with surplus to invest and an insatiable appetite to invest, and a new “bloc” of Sinosphere was on the horizon.

Long before the Covid pandemic saga unfolded, Beijing had shown its ability to turn a major global crisis into an invaluable opportunity to nurture its own hegemonic instincts, with its BRI conceptualization. The Chinese juggernaut of the “military-industrial complex” on the mainland was fueling muscular awareness with its BRI imperatives planned for more than $ 1,000 billion, to clearly desperate and option-free economies.

Beyond the obvious Chinese largesse, it was the alleged “ease of doing business” with the Chinese that made the BIS irresistible. China’s unconditional, no-questions-asked approach imposed no conditions on the host country to answer any embarrassing questions about democratic freedoms, human rights, transparency, etc., which were generally granted to any potential aid from “free world” donors and multilateral agencies.

Some internationally isolated regimes like Pakistan, North Korea, Venezuela, Iran, Bolivia, Myanmar, etc. have been naturally and automatically drawn into the BIS net. Megaprojects like the $ 62 billion China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) or the even larger $ 100 billion China-Myanmar Economic Corridors have emerged from the BRI’s strategic overlay. Almost eight years after its announcement, more than $ 800 billion has been “invested” in infrastructure projects or loans to more than sixty countries, most of which will inevitably struggle to repay the service requirements of the government. debt that accompany them.

As a result, China’s global “grip” has extended beyond trade angularities and is playing out strategically with the sinosphere collectively asserting itself with the indebted countries dancing to Chinese tune. The legs and arms of the legendary ‘Chinese century’ became boldly visible as country after country apparently succumbed to the Dragon’s aggressive overtures, through a curious mix of checkbook diplomacy, bailouts, coercion and intimidating territorial expansion.

Soon the cracks began to appear when recipient countries realized that Chinese aid under the BRI was not so benign, after all. The growing Chinese footprint from the arid plains of Balochistan to the urban dwellings of Yangon had begun to militate in the eyes of suspicious residents. Sri Lanka timidly admitted its mistake by exchanging its “debt trap” for a 99-year Chinese lease on the port of Hambantota, just as the Maldives reneged on their original alliances with the Chinese during the rebound with India.

Distant Zambians, Ethiopians and Papua New Guinea have serious doubts whether they have considered the Chinese option, and even China’s “all-weather friendship” with Pakistan has sparked murmurs in the Pakistani Senate of CPEC as “another East India Company”! Even as Chinese territorial belligerence and expansionism in the South China Sea, Taiwan, Japan, Bhutan, Nepal and the Indian borders became too visible, it was the Covid-19 pandemic that exposed the Chinese machinations and the “minimization” that subsequently wreaked havoc on global economies. The Chinese are now suffering from a serious reputation crisis and suddenly the BIS doesn’t seem like a godsend after all.

China veteran Joe Biden feels the opportunity to play a more fundamental game than waging binary “trade wars” that can only crush the US economy even further. Biden referred to a multibillion-dollar alternative infrastructure plan to rival China’s BRI. Like the BRI, it is considering new age investments in areas such as artificial intelligence, biotechnology, quantum computing, etc., which come from the alternative “bloc” of democratic states!

Potentially, other parallel infrastructural ideas like the ‘Blue Dot network’ to promote infrastructure development in the Indo-Pacific or the QUAD formulation (US, India, Japan and Australia) could be interconnected to give the alternative BRI a step ahead, a base and an ecosystem to build on. While over 100 countries have already inscribed various subcomponents of China’s conceptualization of the BRI – fears of erosion of sovereignty, debt traps and inequality have led to an unprecedented fear of “aid.” »Chinese via the BRI, and therefore the search for a more equitable option, if one exists.

Beyond mobilizing finance for a plausible alternative to the BIS, the patience required to marshal and plow so-called ‘investments’ and neglect certain sovereign governance issues (for example, the junta takeover in Myanmar has driven the United States to impose punitive sanctions, while the Chinese rejected it as “internal affairs”, will test any alternative to the existing BRI.

The United States will need to deploy its more nuanced and holistic DIME (Diplomacy, Information, Military and Economic) approach, instead of invoking a purely militaristic approach to countering the BRI, as the world suspicious of China must be reassured of a a reliable, committed and sustainable alternative approach that cuts across all the “states of need” of a sovereign nation. The post-Trump era also left the Biden administration with the onerous task of mending relations with all of its so-called “allies” to begin with, before embarking on the task of pooling resources to create an alternative to the Chinese BRI.

Not all nations will share the same urgency, fear, or even plausible appetite to join an alternative to the existing BRI that intentionally involves offending the Chinese, directly. But the conversations have already started, now could not be a better time to pose the idea and combine parallel flows of initiatives – the alternative to the BRI may not only be doable, but totally inevitable, unless the ” free world ”throws in the towel for the Chinese, completely.

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