By Sidra Tariq Jamil
China is emerging as a growing power and its rise is not limited to a certain domain. Rather, it is experiencing growth in economy, trade, political influence, soft and hard power. Above all, China’s commitment is to sustainable growth and mutual development across the world.
At present, China is engaged with around half of the countries of the world. It has built these bilateral and multilateral relations gradually.
It is incorrect to portray China’s increasing dominance as a bid to strategically encircle any country. China’s engagements with each country in the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) abides by the established norms of international relations.
Whether it is Pakistan ( a time tested friend of China)or any neutral State, China has focused on mutual partnerships and mutual growth.
At present, the worth of the BRI stands at US$1.2- 1.3 trillion. The BRI has converged the stakes of many countries of the world, which shows that China enjoys an edge, considering the volume of its economic input into these projects.
What does all this mean for Chinese competitors?
In finding an answer to this question, one first needs to consider who is or who are Chinese competitors?
Consider, Russia, India, and the European Union: None of these countries or entities is the loser by China’s rise, rather they are reliable partners in growth with China. The only country which might lose strategic or economic advantage is the United States.
The US and China are engaged in a trade war and have political discords. America has openly expressed reservations about the BRI as America believes it might hurt its strategic objectives.
The BRI is focused on connecting China and Europe via land and sea, with the sea link passing through the South China Sea as well. China aims at focusing on developing infrastructure along the Indian Ocean, the Red Sea and the Mediterranean. These three seas hold significant strategic importance for China as well as the US. The too clash here.
However, Congressional hearings about the BRI and Security and Economic review of US-China relations, have not been held in the recent past, despite Congressional concerns over monitoring developments in US-China relations. This shows that the US, to a minimal extent, considers the developments benefitting its agenda of cooperative development.
The US has ignored China’s mega plans of development, as it believes that the BRI can offer opportunities to American allies if not the America itself.
Despite having reservations about China’s trade initiatives, bilateral trade between the US and China stands at billions of dollars. When it comes to competing in building critical infrastructure, rails and roadways, the US is lagging behind. This is where the US can benefit from Chinese experience. China has shown willingness to share its experience with the US in this field.
With President Trump’s arrival, bilateral competition has become more stringent; coupled with the ongoing trade war things have gotten worse. They have ended the leverages which they had been offering to each other for decades.
President Trump’s vision of ‘America First’ has taken the US far from China. But Trump’s isolationist strategy has not proved to be prudent in financing and executing America’s projects. The history of China suggests that its development was based initially on isolationism. But it has benefitted from it and also come out of it. This is also an area in which Chinese experience can benefit America.
Considering such developments, the Atlantic Council strategy paper about ‘Silk Road and US strategy’ says that the US should reconsider its approach toward China, since, confronting China is becoming counterproductive.
The paper also highlights many areas where the United States can be a beneficiary of Chinese development; specially by expanding bilateral economic relations and use China’s influence over South Asian politics, where America is confronting challenges.
American experts believe that while posing a tough challenge to China, America must focus on converging its efforts with China’s, to participate in Eurasian growth since it Eurasia is a strong export market for US products. The Chinese believe that a collaborative approach could serve the interests of both China and America in Europe.
But at present China want America to maintain a distance. This is because of the on-going trade war which it believes can disrupt the idea of cooperative development.
On the other hand, the Chinese idea of mutual development is considered flawed by Americans. But the Chinese believe that the US should benefit in terms of expanding inter-regional and extra-regional growth. The Chinese have always rejected the idea that the BRI means strategic encirclement of any specific country.
American experts who have long studied Chinese growth and development argue that the US must adopt the strategy of constructive development. They condemn the cherry-picking approach. They believe that the US can participate in energy-related projects, and asses the growth prospects of building new regional connections.
The cherry-picking formula might also conflict with the American geopolitical interests as well. America should not insist that every Chinese project must meet its ideological worldview and abjure projects which abridge its strategic interests.
Constructive participation needs complete manifestation of will and power to uplift bilateral partnerships.
The present century is witnessing immense growth and development. Each sector is witnessing new trends. But trade and economic interests have remained the classic reason for conflict. China and the US have a totally different history. One has a protectionist approach, while the other calls itself the champion of profuse development.
China’s growth is the new mechanism in place and the world is adjusting itself with the plans offered by China. Its soft and gradual growth is attracting the outer world, which has left the US with no other alternative but to witness the new trends.
In contrast to China’s economic developmental approach, the US spells nothing but conflict, destruction and diffidence. The Chinese model aims at building partnerships for mutual benefit and not conflict.
China is the only state in the present century placing in front of the world a creative and meaningful way for coming out of economic stagnation. The US cannot protect itself from the impact of BRI or China’s growth.
There is no dearth of International relations scholars who argue that the Chinese model deserves a look by the US.
(Author Sidra Tariq Jamil is a Ph.D candidate at Tsinghua University, Beijing, China and Lecturer, International Relations at University of Management and Technology, Lahore. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)