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Make One Belt One Road America’s Initiative, too

Jan 17 , 2017
  • Wang Yiwei

    Senior Research Fellow, Center for China and Globalization

“Why not using ‘silk road’ instead of ‘Belt and Road Initiative’, which confused us?” “It is easy to understand to build a road when transportation via land was blocked, yet it is hard to understand the idea behind ‘one road’ since there are no obvious obstacles in the ocean.”

Two years ago, the U.S. embassy sent a diplomat to visit me with the above questions. “China did not use ‘silk road’ or ‘new silk road’.” I replied. “It is not only because those concepts are exotic to Chinese people, more importantly, ‘silk road’ often referred to ties between Asia and Europe and the concept of ‘maritime silk road’ is not popular. Yet ‘one belt one road’ refers both to continental and maritime silk road”.

Chinese people often say: “If you want to get rich, build roads; if you want to get rich quickly, build highways, if you want to get rich immediately, build internet networks.” In Chinese, “Road” is not commonly understood as “road”, it rather means “way”. In the Chinese character “Daolu”, which means “road”, “Lu” is the method to realize “Dao”. What is the true meaning of “Dao”? According to the chapter 42 of the “Tao Te Ching” which is an ancient classic in China, “Dao” generates one, one generates two, two generates three, and then three generates our world. Today, “Dao” means the community facing the same fate. Therefore, the Belt and Road Initiative is a network open to all players and embracing everyone instead of being an exclusive one.

When the Belt and Road Initiative was put forward, the U.S. government considered it as an “illusion” and didn’t pay much attention to it. Generally, the U.S. government is still studying the intent, potential effects and feasibility of the Initiative, so there has not been a clear stance expressed so far. Until the success of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB), the U.S. government had not changed its mind. U.S. think tanks started to study the impact of the initiative on global order and global governance. Some U.S. elites fear that China will be able to challenge the U.S.-led international order through the AIIB and Belt and Road Initiative, or that the success of the Initiative will enable China’s development model to challenge the Western model and its values.

But there are also people who believe that Belt and Road development will not necessarily compete with the United States. Instead, it can bring opportunities. For example, the construction of a Eurasian market can also benefit the U.S. It is also suggested that the United States should seek to integrate its New Silk Road Initiative, designed to help stabilize and develop Afghanistan, with the Belt and Road Initiative and strengthen cooperation with China in regional security governance. Some U.S. think tanks even suggested that U.S. should join some economic corridor constructions to cope with potential shocks to the U.S. ally system caused by China-Central Asia-West Asia Economic Corridor and China-EU cooperation.

After all, the U.S. would not disagree with the Initiative openly after lessons learned from the success of AIIB. Besides, if the U.S. holds its mindset of “If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em”, it is highly possible it would join the Initiative. I also believe that the Initiative should involve developing areas in developed countries, such as U.S. central and western areas. Given that Mr. Trump highlights infrastructure building to boost the US economy, it would be good to see him participate in the Belt and Road International Cooperation Summit in May, which would enhance cooperation between China and U.S in Belt and Road. According to Justin Yifu’s model, every dollar the developing countries invest in infrastructure, will increase imports by 70 cents, including 35 cents from the developed countries. Belt and Road infrastructure investment will promote the export and create jobs for the US, bringing the space for its structural reform.

The Belt and Road Initiative is embracing and open. First, the Initiative will not intrude on the existing regional institutional arrangements. Second, the initiative will work with outside countries such as Japan and U.S., focusing on sharing resources among related countries instead of limiting resources within certain countries. For example, talented people, financial resources, standards and techniques behind many projects of the initiative area coming from all over the world. Take the construction of Melaka Gateway as an example: China invested 30 billion Malaysian ringgit while U.S. invested 10 billion. AIIB uses the U.S. dollar as its operation currency and the chief adviser of the Silk Road Fund is a U.S. citizen.

The United States is neighbor to all countries in the world. The Belt and Road construction cannot and should not bypass the U.S. Instead, it should take active steps to win the support of Washington and enterprises as well as its people. China should strive to win U.S. support by expounding the contribution the Initiative will make to global growth and regional stability. China and the United States should discuss how to work together to build the Belt and Road. For example, America’s advantages in rules and standards of soft infrastructure and China’s advantages in hard infrastructure can be combined; America’s advantages in the security system and China’s in economy can be combined to jointly develop third-party markets. The world would like to see the two countries jointly promote the transformation of their economic development models, of globalization, thus achieving better China-US relations.

In short, the U.S. should be an important stakeholder or player in the Belt and Road Initiative, which will promote American interests. The Belt and Road Initiative, like FTAAP, would invite the U.S.’s participation, which will help ensure a more prosperous global economy and a better world.

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