Since the advent of China’s Belt and Road Initiative, the United States has always held a negative attitude toward it, dismissing it as an ambitious geopolitical initiative, a debt trap and a Trojan horse for Chinese influence that’s incompatible with Western interests. The U.S. has also urged its allies to join its opposition to the BRI. However, because what it says about the BRI is far from fact and ill-intentioned, the U.S. has been left out or resisted by others.
There have also been attempts at persuasion. The United States should give up its prejudice and listen to the voices from all over the world. The fact is that the BRI has received a broad and positive response since its birth. So far, 29 international organizations and 126 countries have signed BRI cooperation agreements with China. These countries are spread throughout Europe, Asia, Africa and Latin America, and often have close ties with the United States, including many in the European Union. Eighteen of the 24 Latin American countries have joined the BRI. In 2016, at the 71st session of the United Nations General Assembly, the BRI was included in a U.N. resolution that was unanimously endorsed by 193 countries.
Many heads of state and international politicians have responded positively to the BRI. L’Express newspaper quoted French President Emmanuel Macron in April as saying, “France and China will pursue third-party market cooperation, and France will work to coordinate the EU’s connectivity approach and the BRI.”
German Chancellor Angela Merkel said in March, “I think this is a very important project, and we Europeans want to play an active role in it. ... The project itself reflects the characteristics of our interdependence.”
Argentina’s President Mauricio Macri said concisely, “There is no development without connectivity. This is an opportunity we don’t want to miss.”
Chilean President Michelle Bachelet said, “We believe that the BRI is a way to shorten the distance and establish modern connectivity.”
U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres pointed out that many investment projects under the framework of the BRI have greatly promoted international cooperation, enhanced the ability of countries to achieve sustainable development goals, and presented important opportunities for the future development of the green economy.
The media and experts have made well-founded explanations of why the BRI is so popular. The consistent view is that the BRI is not a product of geopolitics but a cluster of international economic cooperation projects for mutual benefit, and that it promotes cooperation between BRI countries and other countries around the world by facilitating trade and capital connectivity. It emphasizes the principle of achieving shared growth through discussion and collaboration and each of its project is established based on market rules, rather than imposed by any country.
The Telegraph newspaper in Britain said in March that the “Belt and Road is more of opportunity for Britain than threat. ... If as stated the ultimate goal of Belt and Road is that of shared prosperity, what’s not to like?”
The Star newspaper in Malaysia reported in April: “For many BRI countries, China — which does not have a history of invading or colonizing countries — is seen as a business partner because its investments do not come with any political conditions attached.”
The Spanish newspaper Rebelion said in April: “The impact of the BRI may be huge and transformative. It is a good opportunity especially for developing countries with slow growth and low investment efficiency.”
Professor Daniel Drache of York University in Canada recently gave a thorough analysis of the BRI and why it is well received. Speaking at the National University of Singapore, he put forward a new statement: The biggest effect of the BRI is to help poor countries get out of the poverty trap. He said there is a polarization between rich and poor countries today, and the poor ones face three kinds of traps:
One is the resource curse. These countries rely on resource exports to earn foreign exchange, but this has not facilitated development in other areas.
Another is geographical limitations. Landlocked countries cannot stimulate the development of export industries because they do not have seaports and are unable to build multinational railways leading to seaports.
Still another is domestic instability, which seriously restricts their development.
The BRI helps these countries get out of the poverty trap.
Drache also said the BRI quickly became popular around the world for certain features:
First, it aims to solve the development problem based on infrastructure construction. The BRI is not only about building railways, bridges and ports but also about promoting cooperation in information, finance, healthcare and green energy, which helps promote the modernization of countries.
Second, it is an effective model for government-company integration.
Third, it focuses on long-term benefits. It is not short-sighted but an initiative with a long-term perspective. Some of its projects may appear now to have a long investment cycle and poor investment returns, but they will produce good economic and social benefits after five, 10 or 20 years.
Fourth, it does not discriminate on the basis of ideology, nor does it interfere in a country’s internal affairs. This fills the BRI with vitality. China is cooperating with Israel on building ports, and it helped London become Europe’s trading hub in Chinese currency. Both of these are good examples of the BRI not discriminating on the basis of ideology.
The U.S. should also listen to the voices: The BRI provides an opportunity for China and the United States to build a global development partnership. The BRI is open and inclusive, and China welcomes U.S. participation. Former U.S. Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs Charles Freeman said he believes that the U.S. government and American companies should not be absent but should be involved in the BRI with others.