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Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Chinese President Xi Jinping’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) — his vision for putting Beijing at the center of the global economy through $1 trillion in new infrastructure, trade deals and other connections — has encountered trouble in recent months, creating a backlash among both participating and prospective countries.

Yes, but: Just when the BRI is struggling, U.S. trade policy, especially President Trump's tariffs and reported threats to withdraw from the World Trade Organization (WTO), might unwittingly give it a boost.

Rising tariffs could shift supply chains, pushing China and BRI countries closer together. On Thursday, for example, China is expected to impose an additional 25% import tax on more than 500 U.S. goods, including soybeans. Naturally, Beijing will look to substitute some U.S. imports with goods from elsewhere. A loss for American farmers could be a boon for Kazakhstan and other countries that have been deepening their transportation ties with China through the BRI.

But China is not only using the BRI to build roads, railway and other “hard” infrastructure. Increasingly, it is also promoting “soft” infrastructure, including trade and investment rules that reflect its own interests. The United States has won 85% of the cases it has brought at the WTO, significantly higher than China’s 66% record. Unsatisfied with the status quo, China is setting up two courts at home to settle cross-border disputes along the BRI. Talk of withdrawing from the WTO gives Beijing’s hollow substitutes unwarranted opportunity.

What's next: Despite official claims of openness and transparency, projects under the BRI favor Chinese firms and are less open to local and foreign participation. These flaws should be highlighted and challenged, but the further the U.S. strays from the rules-based trading system it helped create, the more difficult it becomes to expose the gap between China’s rhetoric and reality.

Jonathan Hillman is director of the Reconnecting Asia Project at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

Go deeper: CSIS’s interactive map of more than 2,700 infrastructure projects reshaping Asia

Go deeper

Jan. 6 panel subpoenas 2 far-right "America First" activists

The House panel investigating the Capitol riot, from left; Reps. Bennie Thompson, Liz Cheney, Adam Kinzinger and Jamie Raskin on Capitol Hill in December. Photo: Drew Angerer/Getty Images

The House select committee investigating the Capitol riot issued subpoenas Wednesday for far-right leaders Nick Fuentes and Patrick Casey, who allegedly encouraged followers to go to D.C. and challenge the 2020 election results.

Why it matters: The action underscores the panel's increasing focus on rallies held ahead of the Capitol attack and how extremists were drawn to former President Trump's baseless claims of widespread voter fraud, per the New York Times.

Democrats fail to change Senate rules to pass voting rights bill

Senate Majority Leader during a news conference in Washington, D.C., on Wednesday. Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images

Democrats failed Wednesday night to change Senate filibuster rules to pass the voting rights bill, with Sens. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) voting with Republicans.

The big picture: The failed effort came after Senate Republicans blocked the voting rights measure from coming to a final vote earlier Wednesday.

Updated 6 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Supreme Court rejects Trump's attempt to shield documents from Jan. 6 committee

Photo: Melissa Sue Gerrits/Getty Images

The Supreme Court rejected on Wednesday night a bid by former President Trump to block the release of documents and records from his administration to the House committee investigating the Jan. 6 riot at the Capitol.

Why it matters: Trump asked the Supreme Court to step in and block the release of the documents last month after a panel on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit unanimously denied his attempt to prevent the committee from obtaining the materials.