The emergence of China as a possible competitor to Western supremacy led by the United States has indicated the return of great power competition in the international order. China has had a phenomenal growth in technology, innovation and high-tech industry over the last two decades. It aims to become the world’s greatest power by 2049 with a world – class military. Its Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) project, which aims to incorporate much of Eurasia into its economy, points to a growing superpower conflict between the United States and China.
BRI includes approximately 2,600 projects in over 100 countries, totaling $ 3.7 trillion. It is a large-scale initiative involving several countries that will require extensive coordination and implementation, which could pose significant obstacles for China. BRI’s success seems inevitable given China’s large inflow of finances, the potential of projects to generate self-sustaining revenue and the inherent flexibility for corrections and upgrading of its execution process.
‘Build a better world back’
This research note highlights that the United States continues to underscore BRI’s economic concerns, particularly the debt trap problems that smaller countries are likely to face. The rivalry between the United States and China is a full-fledged strategic battle for wealth, power, and influence, both in East Asia and globally. It is noteworthy that the administration of US President Joe Biden declared its intention to compete with an infrastructure strategy, Build a better world back (B3W), as an alternative to BRI, under the G-7 framework. Matching the multi-trillion-dollar BRI that has been going on since 2013 would be difficult. Each side is committed to improving its worldwide position and freedom of action over the other.
In addition, China is trying to dominate Eurasia and the Asia-Pacific region through its BRI to establish a Chinese-centric global economic order. It has also been a driving force for the establishment of alternative development finance organizations such as the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) and the BRICS New Development Bank (NDB) – BRICS is the acronym invented to connect five major emerging economies: Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa . These are seen as attempts to offset the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank, which is dominated by the United States.
BRI connects China with Asia and Europe via land routes, while also connecting adjacent marine channels across the Indian Ocean, the South China Sea, the Persian Gulf and the Mediterranean. The Silk Road Fund (SRF), AIIB and NDB are the main sources of funding for BRI, with the Chinese government and private investors being the main providers of funding. China’s BRI investment has been accepted by 152 countries and international organizations. It is a long-term transcontinental and transitional mega-project for China and its allies, but it has been considered geopolitical and economic colonialism by countries like the United States. Washington’s influence as a major economy and supplier dwindles with each passing day.
According to US evaluations, there are several reservations about BRI’s economic viability as well as its implications for international order and US interests. U.S. analysts see BRI as completely mercantile, while others see it as a strategic ploy aimed at building Chinese hegemony or perhaps creating the foundation of a “Chinese-centric” world system. Others believe that BRI has the potential to re-establish Eurasia as the world’s largest economic market and achieve a transition away from the dollar-based world’s financial system. Thus, according to US critics, the economic cause of the BRI is primarily in line with the Chinese government’s stated goals as defined in the paper “visions and actions”. U.S. reviews begin by claiming that China intends to exploit BRI to export its surplus capacity in building materials, engineering services and possibly even labor.
The strategic roles of the project
It is essential that BRI has several strategic and economic goals. One option is to use infrastructure to design and strengthen regional influence. China has proven its ability to build infrastructure on a large scale. Infrastructure mega-projects provide powerful visual statements that help support a discourse on economic progress. In addition, as part of efforts to combat climate change, such a focus can also help meet global infrastructure needs and the need for sustainable infrastructure.
BRI is also a key component of Chinese trade and investment initiatives aimed at promoting economic cooperation and increasing dependence on China. Infrastructure built under BRI will improve trade relations in China and across Asia. Regardless of the BRI’s conclusion, it is already influencing the development of perceptions in Asia about the relative responsibilities of China and the United States.
In particular, by addressing infrastructural bottlenecks, increasing trade flows and stimulating economic growth, BRI creates opportunities for win-win results for US companies. The US administration has not been able to formulate an Asian trade and investment plan comparable to China’s BRI ambitions.
Therefore, the rivalry between the United States and China has become a paradigm for world politics in the last few years. It influences both strategic discussions and actual political, military and economic dynamics. The rapid escalation of the US-China conflict combined with the twofold nature of US opposition to China has put the region in grave danger. China is perceived as being more confident, embracing greater risks and willing to alienate key powers like the United States, while continuing to become the world’s largest economy.
* Researcher based in Pakistan, Ph.D. holder of media and communication studies