‘Belt and Road Initiative’ presents an opportunity for the US
Beijing has held open an invitation for the US to take part in next weekend’s ‘belt and road’ summit. But the initiative’s win-win potential does not get the recognition it deserves in the US, where it tends to be viewed in terms of strategic competition rather than cooperation
A bright spot in China’s relationship with the US – the agreement to cooperate in addressing global warming – has been dimmed by President Donald Trump’s reversal of many of his predecessor’s environmental regulations and doubts about the US commitment to the Paris climate-change accord. But an opportunity to affirm the spirit of Sino-US cooperation on the global stage is coming up next weekend with a summit on Beijing’s “Belt and Road Initiative”. Beijing has held open an invitation to the US to take part, despite its suspicions of the initiative.
Through pursuit of mutual interests, the climate-change deal would have complemented the potential of the “Belt and Road Initiative” to boost Asia’s economic ties with the rest of the world. On May 14 and 15 Beijing will host the Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation, which 28 heads of state are expected to attend. Unfortunately, the initiative’s win-win potential does not get the recognition it deserves in the US, where it tends to be viewed in terms of strategic competition rather than cooperation. This has made it challenging to explain the initiative in terms of shared interest, as opposed to areas of genuine competition. For example, increased connectivity can lift living standards in developing countries and open up economic opportunities for developed ones.
But it is not too late for the US to respond to the call to join made during the summit between President Xi Jinping and Trump last month. Just last week, in the midst of apparently warming relations between Trump and Xi, Beijing’s ambassador to Washington repeated the invitation to the US to participate in the initiative, which “opened the gate of opportunities for US enterprises”. Attempts to secure US participation were encouraged when Toshihiro Nikai, secretary general of Japan’s ruling Liberal Democratic Party and No 2 in the party only to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, said he would attend the summit, a sign that Abe wants to improve ties with Beijing amid tensions over North Korea’s nuclear and missile programmes.
Washington’s suspicion of the initiative lies behind its refusal to join the China-led Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, financier of “belt and road” projects. Japan also remains cautious about the AIIB, but Nikai, known for his close ties to China, said the North Korean issue meant mutual understanding between Tokyo – a key US ally – and Beijing was vital. The call for US participation is in keeping with the sentiment expressed by Xi that great power rivalry is best dealt with through mutually beneficial ties centred on win-win cooperation, and combined effort in key areas such as the economy and security.