-----Whither the Belt and Road, Eric Mattet looks at China’s ambitions
Reuel S. Amdur
China is actively engaged in an effort to replace the United States as the leading world power. That was the key takeaway from a talk by Eric Mattet at a virtual Société Gatineau Monde lecture on February 17, entitled “China’s New Silk Roads.” Mottet is a professor at the Université du Québec à Montréal and director of the Observatoire de l’Asie de l’Est.
He explained that there are several threads in China’s ambitions. Let’s start on a secondary one. China wants to strengthen ties between the Chinese and other populations, for example by promoting tourism, both to China and from China to the rest of the world. We might also consider international student exchanges. In this connection, we might think of the activities of Chinese students in Canadian universities trying to undermine the influence of critics of Chinese actions regarding Tibet and the Uyghurs.
The New Silk Road, also known as the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), seeks to link corridors from China in various directions, including into Europe. BRI is not centrally controlled. Rather, it is carried out by a number of Chinese institutions—a number of different banks, ministries, state enterprises, and private companies.
Part of China’s plan is to export cyber intelligence. It looks to eclipse the West with its strength in this area. Huawei is an example of this endeavor.
The main aim is to promote infrastructure, such as rail lines and mines, especially in emerging nations and those run by authoritarian governments. It ties these countries to Chinese influence by providing loans. While the investments are a tempting way to promote development, they may also be a Trojan horse, bogging receiving countries down with insurmountable debt. Yet, China’s efforts have gained major influence in countries from Asia to Africa to Latin America and the Caribbean. One major initiative is the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor. In Pakistan, BRI is multi-pronged, not just for transportation corridors. Power generation is a major factor in that country.
There is pushback against China’s efforts to increase its influence through the BRI. Two factors are in play. On the one hand, many are wary of the debt trap. On the other, China’s reputation is taking a hit because of its expansionist activities in the Pacific and its treatment of the Uyghurs, a factor in Muslim countries. Corruption is another factor hampering the Initiative.