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Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

In challenging China's aim to dominate the future economy and set the global rules for how commerce is done, the U.S. and Europe are going up against history.

Quick take: For centuries, rising great powers have sought to thrive and exert influence by establishing a new global framework for trade. Now, Beijing wants to control the greatest businesses, and is building the biggest infrastructure project since at least the Marshall Plan — the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).

Why it matters: When it is done, the system of ports, railroads and pipelines traversing some 65 countries will be the new face of Chinese foreign policy. But, led by Europe, Japan and India, many of the world's leading economies are balking, viewing it as a Trojan Horse for Chinese geopolitical, military and economic designs. In the case of the U.S., it is complaining about the details of Made in China 2025, Beijing's companion plan to dominate the economy of the future.

  • BRI's critics are right: Like the Greeks, Mongols, British and now Americans, the Chinese are establishing a basis to exert influence through commerce.
  • And that is to be expected: "They want to put their own stamp on the 21st century," James Millward, a history professor at Georgetown University, tells Axios.
  • Yet ... its scale still boggles (map below): "It's so big it's almost impossible for one person to have mastery of the whole thing. Sometimes I wonder if China grasps the whole thing," says Jonathan Hillman of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, who runs a project called Reconnecting Asia.
Expand chart
Adapted from a Mercator Institute for China Studies map; Map: Lazaro Gamio / Axios

Europe is taking the lead in challenging BRI, Axios' Erica Pandey wrote earlier. As seems always the case with geopolitics, it is among players who want a piece of the action: the EU appears less vexed about BRI as a brute force power play and more that its companies compete on an equal footing for projects along the route:

  • In a scoop last month, the German financial newspaper Handelsblatt was leaked a report in which 27 of the 28 EU ambassadors to China (all except Hungary's) criticized BRI. The ambassadors said BRI “runs counter to the EU agenda for liberalizing trade and pushes the balance of power in favor of subsidized Chinese companies.”
  • Handelsblatt cited a remark in January by Joe Kaeser, CEO of German industrial giant Siemens: “China’s [Belt and Road Initiative] will be the new World Trade Organization — whether we like it or not.”

In terms of public relations, China is presenting BRI as a friendly model of development. Millward points out a soft video produced by China Daily depicting BRI in the form of a children's bedtime story — a sort of Pax Sinica.

Though BRI isn't a fairy tale, Millward tells Axios that it's also not a redux of prior centuries. "We aren't going to end with a new British empire or a new American empire," he said. "It's going to be something different."

Go deeper: CSIS's atlas of 12,000 years of commercial history.

Go deeper

Laurel Hubbard to become 1st openly trans athlete to compete at Olympics

New Zealand's Laurel Hubbard at the Gold Coast 2018 Commonwealth Games in Australia, when she became the first openly transgender athlete to represent NZ. Photo: Scott Barbour/Getty Images

The New Zealand Olympic Committee has announced that Laurel Hubbard has been selected for the women's weightlifting team for the Tokyo Games — making her the first openly transgender athlete to compete at the event.

The big picture: Hubbard, 43, is part of a five-member Kiwi weightlifting team and will compete in the women's super heavyweight category. Meanwhile, BMX rider Chelsea Wolfe will become the first openly trans athlete to travel to the Olympics with Team USA, when she arrives in Tokyo as a reserve rider.

American Airlines cuts hundreds of flights amid demand surge

Photo: Joe Raedle/Getty Images

American Airlines announced Sunday that it's cutting some 950 flights from its schedule, including 296 this weekend, to reduce potential pressure on its operations, the Wall Street Journal first reported.

Driving the news: The U.S. vaccine rollout has led to a massive increase in travel bookings. The airline noted in an emailed statement that it's facing an "incredibly quick ramp up of customer demand."

Updated 3 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Florida Pride parade fatal crash a "tragic accident," police say

Participants walk away as police investigate the scene where a pickup truck drove into a crowd of people at a Pride parade in Wilton Manors, Florida, on Saturday. Photo: Jason Koerner/Getty Images

Police said Sunday they believe a driver unintentionally hit spectators at a weekend Pride parade in Wilton Manors, Florida, resulting in the death of one man and leaving another person hospitalized.

The latest: Addressing speculation that the crash may have been a hate crime against the LGBTQ community, Wilton Manors police chief Gary Blocker said in a statement: "Today we know yesterday's incident was a tragic accident, and not a criminal act directed at anyone, or any group of individuals."