China’s trillion-dollar sharp power play
By Michael Bachelard & Eryk Bagshaw
22 April 2021
It’s a new economic order. It’s rewriting the political map. More than 130 countries and virtually limitless ambition are bound up in China’s Belt and Road Initiative. But is this a benign economic plan or the rise of a new empire? And how will it affect us?
The Chinese call it yi dai yi lu – one belt, one road – a revival of that nation’s mythological transcontinental land and sea silk roads. But behind the romance is a hard-nosed plan that’s staggeringly ambitious: a trillion dollars or more spent on hundreds of infrastructure projects co-funded and mostly built by China.
The Belt Road Initiative (BRI) is about railways, ports, roads, pipelines, power stations, industrial parks – and much more. It’s a trade bloc revolving around China. It’s rules and standards written by Chinese companies; economic cooperation zones, financial regulation, high-speed internet, direct investment. It’s about education, culture, health, aid, tourism, foreign relations and politics.
It has been likened by some, including China, to the Marshall Plan, the US program for rebuilding Europe after World War II. But its financial scope and geographic ambition is much bigger. It’s a bid to anchor China’s economic and political place in the world by exerting a mix of hard, soft and steely “sharp” power.