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CFR Report on China’s Belt and Road Initiative Exudes Panic: ‘We’ve Been Sputniked!’

March 24 , 2021 (EIRNS)—The Council on Foreign Relations’ Independent Task Force on the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) released its final report yesterday, “China’s Belt and Road: Implications for the United States,” a 176-page purported blueprint for how the U.S. government must and can counter and contain China’s BRI, admittedly “the largest-ever global infrastructure plan, far surpassing the Marshall Plan.”

Two conclusions jump out to the sane reader of this report. First, the BRI is viewed as a threat because it provides alternatives to the dying British imperial “rules-based order” and its Malthusian “decarbonization” program. Second, these minions of the oligarchic paradigm are painfully aware they are scrambling to play catch-up, with little to offer.

Their attacks on the BRI echo the morally-repugnant complaints against China and Russia for deploying “vaccine diplomacy,” when the U.S. is hoarding vaccines.

Report co-author and former U.S. Trade Representative General Counsel Jennifer Hillman told yesterday’s online seminar on the release of the report that “China is now perceived to be more powerful than the United States in parts of Africa and Asia because of BRI. ‘We have to get back in the game,’ ” Voice of America reported. Former Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew told the seminar that “China has made investing in infrastructure a high priority. The United States has not.” In an op-ed in The Hill yesterday promoting their report, Task Force co-chairs Jacob Lew and Adm. Gary Roughead (a former chief of U.S. Navy Operations) admitted that “the United States has no real alternative to offer in high-speed rail or 5G.”

“U.S. inaction as much as Chinese assertiveness is responsible for the economic and strategic predicament in which the United States finds itself,” the Executive Summary acknowledges. The U.S. did not promote infrastructure, trade, and connectivity throughout Asia; “its own lending to and investment in many BRI countries was limited and is now declining. Its cutbacks in research and development and investments in advanced technologies have allowed China to move ahead” in many areas; and “despite enjoying a leading role in the World Bank and regional development banks, the United States has watched those institutions move away from backing significant infrastructure projects.”

Yet the Task Force denounces China for advancing the BRI “in worrying ways,” which:

• “undermine global macroeconomic stability ... by largely eschewing debt sustainability analysis and funding economically questionable projects in heavily indebted countries;

• “subsidize privileged market entry for state-owned and non-market-oriented Chinese companies;

• “enable China to lock countries into Chinese ecosystems by pressing its technology and preferred technical standards on BRI recipients;

• “ensure countries’ dependence on carbon-intensive power for decades through its export of coal-fired power plants, making climate change mitigation significantly more difficult;

• “make it harder for the World Bank and other traditional lenders to insist on high standards by offering quick and easy infrastructure packages that forego rigorous environmental- and social-impact assessments, ignoring project management best practices and tolerating corruption; and

• “leave countries more susceptible to Chinese political pressure while giving China a greater ability to project its power more widely.”

Since the United States is in no position to respond to the “BRI symmetrically, attempting to match China dollar for dollar or project for project,” the Task Force proposes a combination of direct actions against the BRI and its own offers to compete with China which, within their existing paradigm, will fail.

Most proposed “strategies” against the BRI are already in operation: information warfare (e.g.: “to raise public awareness in host countries of the environmental and economic costs of certain BRI projects”; “robust anti-corruption campaign[s]” against BRI projects and supporters and inserting U.S.; and inserting diplomats or business agents to “offer technical support to BRI countries to help them vet prospective projects for economic and environmental sustainability.”

Nastier still is the call to mobilize multilateral financial strategies to force China to “live up to its pledges for a green Belt and Road by requiring pre-project environmental assessments, denying financing or insurance to projects likely to have significant adverse environmental effects, and adopting binding standards for what constitutes a green BRI investment.”

At the same time, the World Bank is to be “reenergized” to fund infrastructure projects—but only those which meet Western financial and environmental conditionalities, and the International Development Finance Corporation (DFC) and the Export-Import Bank of the United States reformed in order to provide them “with greater flexibility to compete with BRI’s offerings and to partner with other development finance institutions from around the world.”

The report does make one set of proposals, however, which should be carried out for the benefit of the United States and of the world: the U.S. should put “an additional $100 billion toward federal research and development funding, with further investments in universities and research institutions to fund cutting-edge research, and enhanced support for private-sector investment in next-generation technologies” in its own country; increase investment “in basic science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education at all levels;” and amend U.S. immigration and visa policies “to make it easier to attract and retain the world’s brightest students, researchers, scientists, and engineers.”

If the BRI sparks that response in the United States, bring it on!CFR Report on China’s Belt and Road Initiative Exudes Panic: ‘We’ve Been Sputniked!’

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