China is taking a page out of the American playbook in their massive global investment called the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).
“Belt,” is short for the Silk Road Economic Belt and refers to the overland routes for road and rail transportation; “road,” is the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road referring to sea routes.
In America’s version, the Marshall Plan, they invested $100 billion in the war-torn regions of Europe after the Second World War. The stated goals were to remove trade barriers, modernize industry, and improve European prosperity.
The unstated goals of the Marshall Plan were to establish an economic presence in Europe. The Soviets understood this. Soviet Foreign Minister Vyacheslav Molotov, in opposition to the plan in 1946, said: “If American capital was given a free hand in the small states ruined and enfeebled by the war [it] would buy up the local industries, appropriate the more attractive Rumanian, Yugoslav … enterprises and would become the master in these small states.”
According to China’s official newspaper, the People’s Daily, the goals of the Belt and Road Initiative are: “To construct a unified large market and make full use of both international and domestic markets, through cultural exchange and integration, to enhance mutual understanding and trust of member nations, ending up in an innovative pattern with capital inflows, talent pool, and technology database.”
It’s the largest infrastructure project ever with $1 trillion designated for South-east Asia, Eastern Europe and Africa. The plan is expansive. It includes 71 countries that account for half the world’s population and a quarter of global GDP.
Western countries worry about ulterior motives. Jonathan Hillman at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington says: “It’s a reminder BRI is about more than roads, railways, and other hard infrastructure. It’s also a vehicle for China to write new rules, establish institutions that reflect Chinese interests, and reshape ‘soft’ infrastructure.”
Martin Jacques, former editor of Marxism Today is less suspicious. He thinks China is developing sources of commodities in Africa so developing nations can improve their economies and be less dependent on Western demand.
“Secondly,” says Jacques, “and this is why I deeply resent the argument that China is the new colonial power in Africa, China understands the problem of developing countries. One of the big problems is developing infrastructure that delivers transportation, energy and the necessary building blocks of a more developed economy (New Internationalist, July/August, 2018).”
Maybe China can do global supremacy better than the Western world. Resource extraction by Canadian mining giants in Africa has been less than stellar. At a tantalum mine in central Mozambique owned by Pacific Wildcat Resources based in Vancouver a man was shot and killed, inciting community members to set some equipment ablaze. At the Montréal-based Kiniero mine in Guinea, the military killed three in a bid to drive away small-scale miners away. Soldiers also shot a woman and burned her baby
While American foreign policy amounts to bluster and bravado, China is climbing to superpower status by integrating itself into local economies. China will inevitably make mistakes but the Belt and Road Initiative is more systematic than the Western World’s haphazard corporate colonialism.
The U.S. talks tough about China but they can no more stop China’s ascendancy than they can stop the sun from rising.