Op-Ed: Who’s afraid of China’s Belt and Road? Guess

Posted Apr 26, 2019 by Paul Wallis
Superficial analysis of China is easy. They’re communists. Everything they do is therefore wrong and a threat to “us”, whoever that is these days. So when a big initiative like the New Silk Road, aka the Belt and Road, comes along, it’s tricky.
Chinese President Xi Jinping heads to Europe on Thursday as the continent is divided over his cheris...
Chinese President Xi Jinping heads to Europe on Thursday as the continent is divided over his cherished Belt and Road trade infrastructure project
Recent developments on the New Silk Road have the analysts fermenting away nicely. One of the many criticisms is that China is trying to saddle affected countries with unsustainable debt. How odd.
Weren’t “we Westerners” doing that for a few decades, just recently? Aren’t we still expecting Greece, the only country on Earth still saddled with those insane debts, to pay them off with cheap hits on their pensioners?
The other big problem is that all this economic stuff might spread Chinese influence. Gosh. Gee. Shucks, even, maybe, already. Like a few trillion dollars in global markets don’t already do that. My own country, Australia, is now being criticized by China for trying to contain its influence in the region. At the moment we’re trying to do an undersea cable deal with Papua new Guinea and the Solomon Islands, and China’s not invited. They must be heartbroken.
The problem is that to some extent the Chinese criticism is quite justified. Australia and the US recently agreed to upgrade Papua New Guinea facilities in a belated attempt to counter China’s ongoing aid to PNG. We did that while President Xi was in PNG for an economic summit. He didn’t have to be there, and this couldn’t possibly have done much more than irritate him, but that was our big play.
This raises another issue. China has invited Australia to participate in the Belt and Road initiative. Some of our states and industries are sniffing around cautiously, but nothing definite has happened yet. The official Australian government statement is well worth reading. You’ll note that it’s viewed primarily as a strategic initiative. …Which proves that some people can only think of strategy in one way, if nothing else.
Graphic on China's massive infrastructure investment project including road  rail and ship rout...
Graphic on China's massive infrastructure investment project including road, rail and ship routes around the world.
Laurence CHU, AFP
Not everything is about politics
So far, this is just the basic background. What’s missing is any kind of accurate analysis, without the added political baggage. US rhetoric is so stunted regarding China that very little actual meaningful dialogue is happening. Actual trade values don’t seem to be getting much attention, perhaps because the United States isn’t directly linked to any trade routes under this program.
The Belt and Road is being treated as some sort of 19th century “fiendish Oriental” plot. The melodrama is as irritating as the vague implication of an old insult which doesn’t actually say “Yellow Peril” but makes it sound like it. As usual, the obsession with politics has made everything a polarizing issue, simply because it’s “Them”, not “Us” doing it.
Is this fear, or just the very demanding levels of stupidity which we’ve come to despise from our fearless mis-leaders? Quite a few countries are taking an interest in the New Silk Road, and it’s not for sentimental reasons. The Belt and Road is about money and better costs. It’s designed to save China a lot of money in shipping costs, and it’s basically a very straightforward, good, idea.
The West can take full credit for doing absolutely nothing useful in this regard. The US, EU, Australia and other countries have been quite happy to sit around on the sidelines not contributing anything much but bitching sessions to global trade infrastructure for decades now.
To explain, O idiots – The world will have 10 billion people by the end of what is likely to be a very sweaty, uncomfortable century. How exactly is a trade infrastructure which can barely cope with existing loads supposed to cope with nearly 50% more trade? Worth mentioning, or not?
Perhaps the dear little trillion dollar layabout corporations and governments might want get their dear little brattish fingers out on this subject? Rub a few random brain cells together? No, of course not. We’re too intelligent, according to “us”, and too busy growing meaningless, throwaway political nutcases, aren’t we?
Belt and Road basics
The Belt and Road is a large range of existing infrastructure projects which have been underway for years. The projects include rail, road, air and sea shipping, handling and logistics initiatives.
The new, higher capacity and higher efficiency trade routes will go from China to Europe and involve new shipping dynamics, too. China can only send so much of its goods on land due to quite inadequate capacity and handling capabilities.
The completed New Silk Road will also put a lot of hard dollar value in to the countries through which it passes. These are some of the poorest countries in the world, which could definitely use some prosperity after millennia of poverty. The Belt and Road will upgrade the entire southern Asian region, improve freight, reduce costs, and deliver very valuable infrastructure.
It also doesn’t necessarily follow that China is lending to anyone. The infrastructure could be paid for with services, leases, etc., and no actual loans would be required. A bit more transparency on the subject is likely to show that a much more practical approach is in train.
The debt approach very obviously wouldn’t work, anyway. It wouldn’t just look terrible; it’d be a major hit to the very places which need to be in good economic order to make the New Silk Road practical. It’s a very safe bet to say that any sort of dysfunction will be very unwelcome in Chinese terms.
Critiquing the critiques
Why exactly anyone expects China to act according to Western views is anyone’s guess. The critiques so far are incredibly shallow. Streamlining their trade makes perfect sense for China, yet we’re still talking about strategy and influence, when they’re largely talking trade and money?
It seems a rather strange strategy from a military perspective that any nation would build a gigantic, totally indefensible major trade infrastructure. Or is someone expecting the Chinese to suddenly attack the world with artificial intelligence enabled noodles and sweet and sour bills of lading?
Expecting the nations carrying the Belt and Road to stay broke and impoverished on the basis of someone else’s ideology is equally strange. If a few trillion dollars fell out of the sky, would you pick up a few of those dollars? You might, you know.
Would the Belt and Road increase Chinese demand for materials, etc.? It might, mightn’t it? Not a word on this subject from the critics.
Let’s clarify – In business, the Cold War has been over for decades. Nobody is about to start it again, tariffs or no tariffs. Nobody in business gives a damn what a few lie-by-night politicians and extremist idiots think about anything.
Critics, kindly find out what you’re talking about. Not one of these criticisms is even slightly credible. Join the dots.