Submitted by reader M. Roberts,
Many Americans have heard about China’s ambitious global development strategy, known as the Belt and Road Initiative, or BRI. However, an appetite for delving further into the plan’s nuts and bolts seems to be quite scarce, as most Americans are justifiably focused on the country’s domestic economic and political challenges. Xi Jinping, the paramount leader and General Secretary of the Communist Party of China (CCP), had signaled in 2012 that the BRI would help fulfill the “dream of the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation.” On its face, this sounds like another CCP trope commonly messaged to rally ideological support to bolster the party’s legitimacy and monopolization of power, while encouraging mutual cooperation abroad to solidify economic gains. Therefore, why should every American care about China’s own domestic goals and issues when the country is at its own critical juncture? Meanwhile, America’s corporate elite have taken advantage of this gap in public intellectual curiosity to fulfill their own ambitions of wealth and power at the expense of the populace.
Simply put, the CCP’s aspirations have always been framed within a zero-sum mentality, meaning China may only rise at the expense of the rest of the globe, a common feature of Marxist-Leninist theory. This has serious consequences for the American way of life and standards of living in the country. The US Government and intelligence community had typically understood Chinese grand strategy as patient and collectively viewed it within the context of former CCP General Secretary Deng Xiaoping’s mantra of “hide your strength, bide your time.” As we have seen in recent years, Xi Jinping seemingly abandoned this notion and forcefully projected China’s aggressiveness within global institutions and international fora. The dividends of cautiously capturing global elites and quietly bringing them into China’s sphere of influence has paid off quite handsomely for the CCP, as Xi believed it was time for China to flex its muscles. In accordance with the party’s Marxist-Leninist ideology, the BRI is the most suitable mechanism to coercively dominate global trade, infrastructure, and culture.
The BRI claims to be a global infrastructure investment strategy to connect Asia with Africa and Europe through maritime and overland structures. The CCP overtly messages the BRI’s significance in providing financial assistance, infrastructure, and now digital technologies, to developing countries as a result of the party’s own benevolence and inherent responsibility as the new global leader. However, the reality starkly contrasts with the propaganda the party spews through its vast network of media proxies. We have witnessed the BRI being used as a tool to entrap many states, including Pakistan, Sri Lanka, and several African nations among others, into unsustainable debt that causes the victims to become ever more dependent on the CCP’s goodwill. The BRI has also elevated China’s ability to expand forced technology transfer and the outright theft of intellectual property from various business and global institutions, costing the world an untold amount in lost revenue. Chinese intelligence services are also utilizing the initiative, predominantly through their co-optees and previously captured elites, to engage in nefarious activities beneficial to China all under the guise of the CCP’s overstated slogan of “win-win competition.”
Although the United States has refused to cooperate with China and sign any memorandum of understanding to implement BRI projects, that has not stopped China from altering their strategy to bypass federal-level policy. China is quite adaptable and realized that the co-opting of subnational, local, and state-level elites can yield many of the same benefits that come from national BRI deals. Much like a common thief may reason, they are no longer using the front door and have resorted to breaking in through the back. The party uses its United Front proxies, which are often disguised as peaceful non-governmental organizations or community groups, to lobby local officials to allow bids by Chinese state-owned or affiliated contractors for various infrastructure projects within their districts. Many of these bids have been successful and have even expanded into attempts to bid on federal-level projects. This strategy has allowed China to increase their leverage over American infrastructure, effectively holding American companies and public utilities at ransom over Chinese demands. You can think of it as either a kill-switch or a coercive economic tool. In an act of war, what is stopping China from covertly altering the speed of your subway cars to affect physical harm? They can also utilize the infrastructure projects to halt US exports and goods in the unsuspecting event of a canal or bridge coincidentally not working properly at the right moment.
The presence of Chinese digital firms in our society also poses serious risks for data privacy, as we know the CCP exploits data to further their repressive campaigns of wiping out any and all dissent domestically and abroad. All Chinese firms are required to abide by China’s new national security law, which forces companies to hand over data to authorities at any moment, with no course of due process. China has also ingrained in their constitution the policy of civil-military fusion, which requires that specifications for any project, especially physical infrastructure such as ports and bridges, must be aligned with the People’s Liberation Army’s needs. Therefore, we have to realize that we are no longer dealing with the typical trappings of Western investment and development. We are in a new era where the CCP expands their influence and power via the aforementioned zero-sum mentality that they publicly lambast other nations for perpetuating.
Alongside increased US Government attention and pushback, corporate America needs to effectively make decisions that are best not only for its shareholders, but for the American people. China’s long-term capture of corporate elites has made this strategy difficult to implement, but it’s necessary. The American worker deserves a whole-of-society approach to ensuring that they are free to do business and keep their intellectual property in safe hands. The CCP has long convinced US businesses to invest in China for its expansive market access. However, that does not mean that the CCP prioritizes pro-business relationships above all, as we have seen with its destructive policies globally. They have provided a “carrot” for short-term gains, and then utilized their nefarious “stick” of economic leverage to fulfill their own geopolitical goals. Above all, Americans must know that the survival of the party is their first and foremost goal. We have seen what the CCP does to its own national champions, such as Alibaba and Tencent, when the party feels as if its grip on power becomes questionable.
The old mentality of changing China to become a responsible stakeholder in the global environment was idealistic, yet it has proven to be a false hope. We must deal with the China that is in front of us, and not with the one in which we hope for them to become. Americans must prioritize their own independence by ensuring that our critical technologies and infrastructure are no longer at the risk of being leveraged for our adversaries’ political and economic advantage. This strategy will only work if our country’s increasingly dysfunctional and paid-for legislators mandate that corporate America cannot engage in transactions and investments with Chinese entities which were created to destroy American dominance in the financial and currency markets. Capital market restrictions must be put into place, as we know that a large portion of CCP revenue comes from unwitting pensioners and fund investors. The BRI is, by far, the greatest geopolitical and societal challenge to the American way of life. We no longer have the option of staying silent and praying for a different outcome or a pacified Beijing. The evidence of the CCP’s intentions is laid out among the global catastrophes it has caused; and as we know from the COVID-19 pandemic, global issues eventually come to our doorstep. As a result, corporate America must be forced to take America’s side in this long strategic challenge.