An interesting article in the September-October issue of Foreign Affairs, the publication of the Council on Foreign Relations, chides the U.S. government for attempting to ignore the Chinese One Belt, One Road Initiative. The article is most interesting as it is written by Gal Luft, the co-director of the Institute for the Analysis of Global Security and a member of Committee on the Present Danger and co-director of the Set America Free Coalition, which also hosts a number of leading neo-cons who want to make the U.S. energy independent.
Luft complains of the folly of the Obama Administration in ignoring the Belt and Road project and encourages U.S. participation in it. “The B&R is a massive undertaking that will shape Eurasia’s future. It will extend from the Pacific to the heart of Europe, stimulate some $4 trillion in investment over the next three decades, and draw in countries that account for 70% of the world’s energy reserves,” Luft writes. “So far, however the United States has fruitlessly attempted to undermine the initiative or avoided engaging with it altogether. That is the wrong course. Washington should instead cautiously back the many aspects of the B&R that advance U.S. interests and oppose those that don’t. The United States does not have to choose between securing its global position and supporting economic growth in Asia: selectively backing the B&R would help achieve both goals.”
Outlining the magnitude of the Silk Road project, Luft is concerned that the U.S. is alienating itself from those countries which will definitely benefit from the project as well as allowing China to get the full benefit of the results, warning that such a policy could have the same negative effect as the U.S. attempt to boycott the AIIB, with even allied countries distancing themselves. Luft also points to the obvious tremendous infrastructure deficit in the world, noting that anything that China could do to tackle that problem should be supported simply on its own merits.
Luft warns, however, of giving “blanket support” to the project. Moving too close to China on the issue, he warns, will trigger paranoia in Russia, and working too closely with China in the Middle East, where Iran is a key pillar in the Belt and Road, could alienate U.S. allies in the Gulf Cooperation Council countries. Perhaps a division of labor, he moots, like the U.S. providing security for some Chinese construction projects or reviving Hillary Clinton’s New Silk Road project.
“The Belt and Road Initiative could become either a source of great-power competition or a force for stability and collaboration,” Luft writes. “Beijing and Washington can ensure that the latter possibility wins out. In general, the best course for the United States will be one of selective buy-in: it should participate in projects that advance its interests, such as infrastructure investments aimed at improving intraregional trade in Southeast Asia, while avoiding those that undermine them.
“It will take a great deal of magnanimity for the United States to resist the urge to oppose such a grand strategic initiative as the B&R, especially since China’s westward push comes at a time when Washington is increasingly confused about its own role in the world. But the United States must remember that its response to the project will help determine the future of U.S.-Chinese relations and of the international order. And as the global economy slows down and hundreds of millions of Asians languish with few hopes of escaping poverty, the United States must recognize that its fate is linked to that of the developing world and that it should give its blessing to initiatives that will lift all boats.”