President Xi’s Grand Strategy — Has China Lost an Opportunity?

The state of the Belt and Road Initiative and Beijing’s handling of the Covid-19 pandemic

The world needs wise leadership. Image by on .

Pakistan’s prestigious daily The Dawn has recently published an piece about the much-publicized China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). The opening sentence of this piece correctly states how it has been “peddled to the people as a game-changer.” However, it quickly switches to a grimmer picture, saying: “the projects in its first phase have failed to usher in the level of prosperity that was promised to the people.”

The China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) is ailing, and Islamabad is genuinely alarmed. A by the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in April 2020 identifies three main areas of concern, namely: 1) there is a large gap between planned projects and progress (scaled back by 75%), 2) the energy projects are posing a severe risk to public health due to pollution, and 3) despite a promise to turn Pakistan into a high-value manufacturing hub, there is no tangible development.

Pakistan currently faces an energy deficit of 3,000 MW during peak demand, and solving this issue was a priority for the CPEC since 2013. Energy projects, including power plants, pipelines, and transmission projects, account for nearly two-thirds of announced funding. But several large such projects have since been delayed or shelved. BRI has indeed become a Chinese version of “” to many recipient countries.

China unveiled its ambitious Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) in 2013. Many it as they saw it as an alternative to the World Bank-led funding source for infrastructure development. According to the , it is a transcontinental long-term policy and investment program that aims to develop and accelerate economic integration along the historic Silk Road route. Several regional initiatives are underpinning the umbrella BRI. I will briefly discuss the status of two of them, one in Myanmar and another in Pakistan.

Whatever the stated goal, among the host countries, and the progress is far behind the plan. The China-Myanmar Economic Corridor (CMEC) suffered a severe setback when the host government stalled the in 2011 in the face of public protest. Beijing has already spent USD 3.6b on it but failed to convince the generals in Naypyidaw to re-commence it. The recent Chinese-backed military takeover in Myanmar ousting the Suu Kyi government has . In 2018, Myanmar re-negotiated a Chinese-led port project in the western state of Rakhine, over excessive debt concerns. No doubt Sri Lanka’s Hambantota Port saga was in everyone’s mind. In 2017, Sri Lanka had to port to a state-owned company for 99 years as it could not pay the debt. says that the deal allows this company to control the port for another 99 years, making it a total of 198 years, raising eyebrows in Colombo.

In a recent paper titled “,” Professor Avery Goldstein of the University of Pennsylvania discussed the Chinese grand plan. According to him, Beijing aims at shaping the world for its rise by 1) reassuring other states about the benign intentions of a rising China, 2) promoting reform of the international order to facilitate its rise, and 3) resisting challenges to the country’s core interests.

The nature of Beijing’s participation in the global efforts to handle the COVID-19 pandemic also poses similar questions, can President Xi steer China to materialize its grand strategy?

The COVID-19 pandemic was a challenge for China, as it was for the whole world. Beijing’s successful crisis was praiseworthy, and the world watched in awe when Chinese engineers built a full-fledged hospital in just six days . However, that admiration quickly waned when Beijing visit to Wuhan. Instead of addressing the matter, it decided to penalize Australia by on its exports to China. Why? Because Canberra criticized Beijing for its mishandling of the WHO visit. Beijing has also lost the battle for the coronavirus vaccine, as the American and European research organizations have started large-scale production and dissemination of their products.

What went wrong in Beijing? The vacuum created by President Donald Trump offered an excellent opportunity for and show the world that Beijing is also capable of acting as a responsible global leader. But we didn’t notice any such message from Beijing. Instead, it went heavy-handed with India (), continued large-scale on the Uighurs, used a in Hong Kong, and to the Rohingya crisis in Myanmar. China also focused on using its , while it has a . Chinese researchers have not adequately shared data on their human trials and the more than 1 million emergency-use inoculations. Even among the Chinese nationals, there is a about their vaccine quality.

Many centuries ago, the Chinese strategist Sun Tzu (d.497 BC) said, “The supreme art of war is to subdue the enemy without fighting.” The developing countries were looking to build their infrastructures for the last few decades. President Trump left most of America’s global leadership roles for others to pick up. And most recently, the world was looking for a way out of the COVID-19 pandemic. All these had been opportunities for Beijing to step up as a global leader. What would Sun Tzu have done if he were around today?

#ChineseLeadership #Beijing #BRI #BeltAndRoad #CPEC #CMEC #Pakistan #Myanmar #India #Australia #Uighur #Rohingya

Travels and writes as a hobby on history, culture, politics, and contemporary issues.