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By Ambassador Anil Trigunath. Copy Edited by Adam Rizvi, 17 July 2021, New York. TIO: China has begun to scare the world. Its not so benign rise as a major power through its economic and technological heft has raised questions. It is further accentuated by its totalitarian political system embedded in Communism of Chinese style which the western democracies consider anachronistic. Both feel they are superior to the other.
No wonder the Chinese got a rider to denigrate the democracy per se when former President Trump and his supporters tried to invade the Capitol and refused to acknowledge the victory of the Democrats and prevented smooth transition. China gleefully scoffed at the so-called greatest democracy in the world. Fact is everything or rather most things are visible and questionable within a democratic framework be it the dispensations or even the institutions. No system is perfect but people having their voice and rights and freedoms and rule of law makes them far superior as an institution of polity and governance.
China tried one country two systems in Hongkong, but one failed the other. Well, indeed no system is perfect. But the Chinese heft is a direct derivative of its unprecedented economic growth which can be attributed to the inebriated West that ironically believed in the moralist reformist missionary ideologies underlying the fact that an
economically stronger China may integrate better in the international law and abiding global trading and governance regimes. China itself feared that excessive economic might of the individual has the potential to undermine the shaky political foundations. Jack Ma’s of China took their time to learn the lessons. China does aim to become No.1 in the world politically, militarily economically, and technologically.
The cyclical theory will say -nothing wrong with it. But will the rise be benign or be marked by Covid-ridden malignant growth even in the future. Growing concerns about its likely complicity in a bio-weapon wreaking global health and economic disaster followed by wolf warrior diplomacy and debt traps and neo-colonial, aggressive, and hegemonistic approaches have made the US and other powers sit up and work on alternatives to recover the losses. Indo-Pacific geopolitical construct and B3W and fight over
5G superiority are indicators of this haste. China plans and plans for at least 100 years. It has created capacities and constituencies that will enable it to move on as smoothly as possible. Ancient
Silk Routes and Roads are its markers.
No wonder in 2013 it launched overly innocuous One Belt One Road Initiative (aka BRI) which aimed at establishing the largest connectivity project encompassing overland infrastructure, maritime assets, digitally connect, ion and the health silk road initiatives so very congruent during the pandemic that it is accused of spreading in the first place. Trillions of dollars will be needed and be deployed in the railway networks, energy corridors, and pipelines, highways, and ports while graduating to more tech-driven connectivity. It sounds too good to be true, but China has the capacity to undertake and deliver which is why over 139 countries have endorsed or joined it. Some voices of dissent and suspicions are also becoming frequent including in Eastern Europe via Prague.
For the Chinese, the long-term strategy is to obviate the impact of the vulnerability of first-chain islands. This would also create greater dependencies on China across regions as its global and value supply chains are further finetuned. Strategic gains of the BRI are there to be counted within the ambit of Eurasia and Indian Ocean Region and beyond like CEE (17+1) format to overtly create economic connectivity and collaborative interdependence while securing markets for expanding Chinese entrepreneurship and the Public sector beyond their shores. it has the inherent capacity to be securitized if needed. But then as Newton says for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.
The reaction there is whether equal or not. At the recently held G 7 Summit in the UK, one of the key outcomes was the acknowledgment by powerful economies and countries that China was indeed a challenge and has to be addressed and confronted, if necessary, to ensure geopolitical and geoeconomic balance. Hence, they devised a B3W -Build Back a Better World. Essentially an infrastructure initiative like that of BRI with an alternate orientation. Joint Communique was somewhat vague, but the Biden administration came out with a fact sheet that entailed “Build Back Better World (B3W)” and described it as “a values-driven, high-standard, and transparent infrastructure partnership led by major democracies to help narrow the $40+ trillion infrastructure need in the developing world.”
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It is supposed to be a PPP initiative motivating the private capital to invest in global infrastructure, focussing on – climate, health and health security, digital technology, and gender equity and equality. Questions are being asked about its feasibility and funding and the selection criteria of the projects for low- and middle-income countries. Will the private sector run excitedly to Africa or Asia or elsewhere is a matter of debate? It is a strategic competition to provide an alternative to BRI. Not that such attempts have not been made before like Japan’s Quality Infrastructure Initiative or EU’s Partnership on Sustainable Connectivity and Quality Infrastructure or Blue Dot network.
India and Japan have the Asia-Africa Growth Corridor or the ones under India’s Act East or BIMTEC projects. Connectivity is the buzzword these days in which China so far seems to have aced. Now, India has got an alternative option in B3W. One of the most prominent skeptics and critics of the Chinese BRI from the very beginning has been India that read the Chinese Silky mind rather fast -now acknowledged by the rest of the democratic world. Her concerns were lack of transparency and violation of her sovereignty, especially as the infamous China- Pakistan Economic Corridor passed through the Sino-Pak-occupied portion of the Indian territory.
Add debt traps, corruption, and opaque dealings and a recipe for potential disaster become clear. In India’s neighborhood countries like Sri Lanka and Maldives and Nepal will likely join the Pakistani bandwagon of hypothecation of their sovereign economic choices to Beijing. Or perhaps a new outsourcing model might ensue. Too soon to say if the B3W guys are really serious and what is their timeline to jump into the beltways of connectivity and control. But China is not twiddling its thumbs as it takes note of the new democratic venture.
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Compiled and Curated Humra Kidwai