CHINA – In ancient times, the ‘Silk Road’ connected China with much of the rest of Eurasia and Europe, expanding the ability of Chinese makers of silk and other goods to trade with what was practically the entire known world at the time. A new plan by the Chinese government based on the original ‘Silk Road’ concept aims to connect Chinese markets and manufacturers even more solidly to the world, and lawmakers in the United States and around the world are paying attention.
The plan, called “One Belt, One Road” or “Belt and Road Initiative”, which arose as a response to United States trade deals in the Pacific, aims to give China a long-term economic advantage, elevating them to greater power in the global economy. The plan would do this, at least in part, by virtue of becoming greater trading partners to emerging global economies than the United States, and aligning Chinese interests with newly connected nations through infrastructure projects and investments.
The Washington Post report also highlights how China is increasingly dictating the terms of doing business to foreign companies seeking to enter Chinese markets, sometimes by creating minority partnerships between the companies and the Chinese government. Some of these terms include the prohibition of internet companies showing certain content or websites, and limiting the products companies can sell in China.
The One Belt, One Road initiative would connect China to six major geographic regions, including Singapore, the Mediterranean, Eastern Russia and into Turkey, essentially focusing on upgrading infrastructure and connectivity and turning China into an even more powerful center of economic gravity across much of the world.
In contrast, European and North American governments are largely focused inward on political and economic struggles, dealing with budgets, immigration, military conflicts and social issues that leave them with a blind spot on the issues of major infrastructure and trade agreements.
Last week in Congress, lawmakers heard from experts testifying that what China is methodically doing across the globe is rearranging the economic order to place China at the top, not the United States.
While China moves forward developing infrastructure across much of Eurasia, some experts warn that the process could be a bureaucratic nightmare, with plans stretching across many countries, types of terrain and attitudes toward the project.
But western lawmakers face similar challenges with infrastructure. Even now, American lawmakers are grappling with the details and politics of infrastructure plans to rebuild parts of the United States that have not been maintained in recent decades and the development of rural broadband programs in states like Maine, just to bring the basic infrastructure of the nation up to a passable level for the twenty-first century economy.