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U.S. Allies Ignore Washington, Join China’s Belt And Road

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As the U.S. and China spar over everything from trade to technology, fears have risen that the world is spiraling into a renewed Cold War, with two ideologically opposed blocs battling it out for global dominance. But, as Khanna noted, that Cold War paradigm has “almost no relevancy” today.

Back when the U.S. and the Soviet Union were engaged in their nuclear-tipped global struggle, dividing up the world’s nation-states was much easier. The blocs were almost alternative universes, based on distinct political and economic systems, and choosing one camp or the other was clear-cut. (Not all countries wished to take a side, of course, which is why leaders of some developing nations launched the “Non-Aligned Movement.”)

This is not the case anymore. While Washington and Beijing have different political ideologies, akin in some ways to the former Cold War divide between the “free” and “unfree” worlds, their economies are tightly intertwined with each other’s, and with the rest of the world’s. Longtime security allies of the U.S., such as Japan, South Korea, and Germany, also have strong trade and investment links with China that are crucial to their economic future. So while they are not prepared to ditch their alliance with Washington, they can’t afford to unduly alienate Beijing, either. Add in other divisions—the strained relations between the U.S. and Europe, for instance, or within the European Union itself—and the global picture becomes even fuzzier.

All these geopolitical complexities are tied up in this week’s Belt and Road Forum. The initiative, also known as One Belt, One Road, is the brainchild of Chinese President Xi Jinping, and aims to build railways, port facilities, power systems, and other infrastructure across the globe. Xi has sold it all as a model of peaceful development. “We should foster a new type of international relations featuring win-win cooperation,” he once said when discussing the initiative. Washington has painted a very different picture, of a self-serving scheme designed to extend Chinese strategic and economic influence. U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo recently charged that the Belt and Road plan was “a non-economic offer,” and said Washington was “working diligently to make sure everyone in the world understands that threat.”

Granted, the Belt and Road program has run into its fair share of potholes. The amorphous program lacks transparency on how projects get chosen, financed, and built, and major Asian countries have either stayed away or minimized their involvement. India—even more distrustful of China than it is desperate for infrastructure—has rebuffed Beijing’s advances. In Pakistan, Belt and Road projects are being blamed for burying the country in debt, forcing the government in Islamabad to scale back the building program.

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