US President Joe Biden recently pushed a competitor to China’s massive Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), a move that could further heighten the trade war with China that he inherited from former president Donald Trump. CPEC, incidentally, is a tiny part of the BRI — the $60-odd billion valuation of all CPEC projects is barely 1% of the total estimated cost of the BRI. That alone should give an idea of the scale of the BRI and what any Western alternative would have to entail.
Biden has suggested that the proposed alternative led by “democratic” countries — presumptively the Western countries that are at odds with China for various trade and political reasons. The US and several other Western nations have shown concern over the BRI for a while. Unfortunately, while some of their concerns are worthy of debate — such as the terms of lending to various countries — many are just examples of the pot calling the kettle black.
Economic imperialism is one of the concerns forwarded. Any accusation of imperialism from countries such as the UK, France, Belgium, and even the US, is laughable. Lest we forget the billions that live in poverty till this day due to these countries’ actions during the age of imperialism, or the fact that in many cases, they have made no attempt at reparations or even simple apologies. The truth is that China is just beating the Western powers at their own game. They country has leveraged her size and unprecedented economic success over the last 30-odd years to spread investment and influence to all corners of the globe and made itself an irreplaceable part of many countries’ economies. Any Western competitor for CPEC would require agreement between several countries just to get it off the ground, making it a non-starter — at least in terms of scale. Then there are issues concerning what China gets out of BRI versus what an alternative would offer the West.
As the world’s factory, China gains from reduced extraction costs for raw materials and lower carriage costs for these raw materials and finished products it exports. Most Western countries are already at a severe comparative disadvantage against China in terms of manufacturing. A counter-BRI will not change that.
Published in The Express Tribune, March 30th, 2021.
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