The 21st century Thucydides trap easily explains the way the emerging global power poses a threat to the interests of an already existing great power in the world order thereby galvanizing the great power rivalry. The gradual increase in Chinese soft power as a result of the different revolutions spreading over different phases has caused the emergence of China as a key player in international politico- economic arena thereby posing a threat to the position, global leadership and interests of the rival major power especially those of the US.
Thus, the United States of America has been adopting every possible measure over the past few years to contain the growing Chinese influence whereby it will protect its global leadership position.
The US-China cold war intimacy
While following the policy to contain China, the United States of America initially adopted a Containment policy as known as Pivot Asia policy with a purpose to encircle China via coming into contract, alliances, military bases and economic support to the hostile neighbours of China. Washington formed the joined Pacific Asia Partnership and along with the ten ASEAN countries and Japan to boost up cooperation in a plethora of areas.
The sole purpose of the partnership was to contain China while encircling it.Similarly the United States of America started shaking hands with the other three major regional rivals of China: Japan, India and Australia, under the banner of QUAD with a purpose to give a tough time to the Chinese rise. Washington has been on way to cooperate with New Delhi militarily, economically and diplomatically for the past one and a half decades to satisfy its Chinese question.
Washington has also adopted militarily tactics as it has its existence in the Asia Pacific region with a number of military land, aerial and naval bases incentivised by a purpose to have a vigilant look over the regional geopolitics especially the communist oriented. Moreover, it has also been using the stick of human rights protection to hit China with via unveiling and rebuking Beijing for its gross human rights violations in Hong Kong and Uighurs.
The United States of America adopted the history’s costly trade war with China via putting high tariffs on Chinese goods exported to the US which retaliated the same action by Beijing. The tariffs war shook the global economy too. However, Washington kept failing here too for a considerable extent. Recently, the ground of war has shifted to tech-world where Beijing seems to be leading once again.
While continuing with the same agenda of containing Beijing’s growing influence, the Biden administration has started backing into the policies of joining hands with its friends against China as adopted in pro-Trump era. Biden took off to England to attend the meeting of G7 which was going to be held there at the South- Western England.
Though the meeting discussed a plethora of multilateral issues, its main focus remained over the ways to contain the growing influence of China especially under its Belt and Road Initiative. The participants agreed upon the launching of joint infrastructure program worth at $40tr to compete with the BRI.
How does the BRI work?
The Chinese Belt Road and Road Initiative also known as One Belt One Road Initiative, is an infrastructure development project passing through a number of countries across Asia, Middle East, Africa and part of Europe. It connects more than 60 countries at the cost of $200bn.The project encompasses railways tracks, roads, optic fibres and marine connectivity.
The project is much pregnant with benefits for the cross continental connectivity, trade, infrastructure development, energy and employment opportunities and the over all economic growth in addition to the improvement in diplomatic relations.
Likewise, the BRI is extracting money from Beijing and paving way for its investment in the countries it’s going through. China provides loans to the countries which are signatories of the said project.
The loaned sum is to be invested in the uplifting of the infrastructure, energy, health and education among others. The Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank led by China is being used for bailing out the struggling economy which is reported to be competing with the West-led World Bank.
Similarly, China enjoys remarkable diplomatic ties with a number of countries across the world. A handful of countries in which Beijing is investing in one way or the other especially in Asia and North Africa need the political-cum-diplomatic-economic support of China.
For instance, Islamabad and Beijing are jointly hosting the BRI flagship project CPEC, which is extremely vital for the life and growth of the deteriorated physical, agricultural and energy infrastructures in addition to the security of employment and agricultural and industrial growth in Pakistan and a cheap trade route to China.
Apart from this, Beijing supports Islamabad diplomatically over its Kashmir issue and FATF. Beijing has persistently bailing out Islamabad’s struggling economy in times of need. The same is the case with a plethora of countries wherein China is investing especially through BRI. This is the reason why the BRI mostly overwhelms the criticism it is brought under, that it’s a debt -trap plan of China.
Economically and trade wise, China enjoys a good friendship with a handful of countries across the world. In Europe, it enjoys bilateral economic ties with a plethora of countries. There is a bundle of companies in Europe Latin America and Asia which are dependent on the raw material supplied by China. For instance Germany is exporting a large number of its automobiles to China.
In the same way it imports raw material from China to manufacture and oil for its automobile company. Same is the case with other European countries which are largely dependent upon the raw material of China. Beijing also enjoys its influence over a number of important strategic ports like the Hambantota port in Sri lanka.
The Build Back Better World plan
Contrary to the BRI project, the US and its allies especially its G7 partners have announced an alternate infrastructure project named Build Back Better World, at the whopping cost of $40tr with a purpose to compete the BRI thereby reducing the growing influence of China. As has been mentioned above, the deep-sited influence of BRI over its signatories, it is posing a threat to the geopolitical-cum- economic interests of the US and its allies which is why its countering is the need of the hour for Washington and its allies. The B3W is supposed to do this very job.
However, a million dollar question surfaces here whether the proposed plan would counter the BRI. China has built up an terminated soft image especially in the area of economic growth via adopting its Third Revolution strategy. It has a deep stake in dozens of countries across Asia, Europe, Africa, and the Middle East. It seems to be a herculean task for B3W to draw down that very influence which China has via its diplomacy and projects like BRI.
The B3W would have to allocate a sufficient amount of loans and investment in the countries in which it intends to invest. It will have to pay the countries to enable them to pay back for Chinese loan. The B3W makers will be expected of extending diplomatic-cum- political support to the countries B3W is going to operate in. However, the project is deemed to be lagging behind in striking the core requirements for its booming.
Similarly, the ongoing pandemic has shaken the whole global economy to the core wherein those of the US and Western economies are of no exception. Thus, it would be a daunting assignment for them to allocate much to the project.
The project may find it difficult to minimize the BRI’s influence in areas of investment in a plethora of fields and loans the signatories have been credited with. The projects launched under the Belt and Road Initiative are usually deemed to be the lifeline projects as the CPEC is often quoted for Pakistan’s energy regime among others.
Finally, the analysis unequivocally explains the difficulty the B3W would face in countering the deep-sited BRI by dint of a plethora of reasons: the growing Chinese influence in areas like economy, tech, and politico—diplomatic across the world propagated either by BRI or other sources. The China’s growing economic influence has spread over years which cannot easily be countered.
The US-led bloc must ponder over the repercussions of any unilateral move to contain Beijing for the international politico-economic system, e.g, the huge economic cost of the trade war between Washington and Beijing for global economy as was seen in the previous episode.
The US-led Western bloc must analyze the ground realities to ensure a project for competition in lieu of containing something as the competition will create a healthy competition and more than this, will pay the way for another cold war which might be more destructive this time than that of the previous one which would make it difficult for those countries who want to be neutral.
The propagators of Build Back Better World must realise the importance of economic growth-led incentives instead of criticising them to provide the global economy with cooperation and growth.
The writer is a columnist based in Islamabad and can be reached at abdulsamadkhanbannu22@gmail.