By Mayamiko Goliati
In 2013, China unveiled a new, bold and ambitious global project. Dubbed the Belt and Road Initiative, the new trade corridor is designed to link 64 countries, accounting for about 30% of the global GDP, with China as the central hub. This is the largest bid for global geopolitical and economic influence since WWII and should it succeed, the economic bonds formed by China will poise it to be the new world leader in commerce.
The project was formed as a response to the diminishing viability of China’s exports, due to western economic growth stagnation, and domestic infrastructure. With one of the world’s largest manufacturing industries, especially in steel and cement, the Belt and Road Initiative provides a lucrative outlet for Chinese products while also bolstering its relationships across the globe. Currently, a $ 6 billion railway project to connect 8 Asian countries is underway in Laos, another $ 46 billion has been earmarked for infrastructure spending in Pakistan and railway maps have been drafted to connect a Chinese owned port in Greece to Serbia. All in all, over $900 billion worth of investments and infrastructure have been projected. This would not only increase the potential market for Chinese goods, it would also serve to increase China’s influence by restructuring it at the center of the global economy as well as deepening its ties to other economic juggernauts like Russia, Pakistan and Iran, where the bulk of the spending is expected to happen.
The success of the Belt and Road Initiative will also serve as a boon to Chinese companies. A plan released in 2017 by the Chinese government aims make China self-sufficient in many key industries, mainly technology, by offering outstanding government assistance. This, coupled with the new trade deals that would accompany the initiative, would serve to catapult Chinese companies to global brand status as well as give them an enormous advantage over their western counterparts.
The possibility of subsidized global brands has understandably made Western Nations and their allies nervous. These plans have drawn a lot criticism from the European Union Chamber of Commerce who sees this as an effort to nationalize major fields in technology industry as well as an opportunity to discriminate against foreign products in the Chinese market. India has also been a notable silent opponent. Given their complicated past, China’s notable investment in Pakistan, and plans for a China-Pakistan Economic Corridor that would go through the disputed state on Jammu and Kashmir, it is easy to see why Delhi is anxious about this plan.
With the current backlash against globalization in the West and the rise of economic protectionism, personified by the Trump Administration’s America first stance, Brexit and the rise of the National Front, China seems to be the de facto leader in regional and economic interconnectivity. While the rest of the developed world is gravitating away from the idea of an integrated global market, China is leaning into it. The Belt and Road Initiative is a call back to the age when China ran the world’s economy, an age the world may be about to witness again.
Miko Goliati is a freshman at Lehigh University, where Miko studies bio-engineering, molecular biology, and global politics.