Jan 24, 2019

Competitors worry that China is using Belt and Road for political gain

Chinese President Xi Jinping shakes hands with Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak during an event in 2017. Photo: Roman Pilipey/AFP via Getty Images

China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) suffered a major setback this month when the Wall Street Journal reported that Chinese infrastructure projects were inflated to help bail out Malaysia’s state development fund. The Malaysia affair, in which several big projects were pursued for political rather than economic reasons, is just one of 17 cases cited in a new U.S. Department of Defense report that argues China's BRI "serves a greater strategic purpose" than advertised.

The big picture: According to the report, China is using infrastructure and other ostensibly commercial projects through the BRI to help promote Chinese standards in everything from 5G networks to satellite services. As the BRI proceeds, China's partners are taking a closer look at its economic risks, and China's competitors are scrutinizing its strategic implications.

History is filled with examples of states using foreign infrastructure to access territory, harvest resources, shape government policy, dominate technology, and undercut their competitors. In many ways, China is merely updating the playbook used by Western powers during the 19th and 20th centuries to expand its influence.

  • Beijing dangles the promise of investment to limit outside criticism, enlist support for its positions at the UN, and gain other political concessions.
  • China’s expanding network of ports could also allow it to project and sustain military power at greater distances.
  • Indeed, one of China’s disadvantages is that memories of colonialism still linger in developing and emerging economies like Malaysia, where questionable Chinese projects have run into trouble and sparked a backlash.

Be smart: New avenues for influence are opening up as the Internet of Things and related developments incorporate more sophisticated sensing technology into highways, electric grids, and other connected infrastructure. These developments could boost productivity and fuel economic growth, but they might also increase Chinese intelligence capabilities and enable host governments to stifle free speech along China’s "digital silk road," since "smart" infrastructure is functionally surveillance infrastructure.

What to watch: If Chinese technology giants like Huawei continue to get squeezed out of advanced economies, China could double down on the BRI and push deeper into developing economies, where the demand for infrastructure far exceeds the current supply.

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

Go deeper:Influence and Infrastructure” at CSIS.

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Trump rules out quarantine in New York, New Jersey, Connecticut after pushback

President Trump on the White House grounds on Saturdya. Photo: Sarah Silbiger/Getty Images

President Trump tweeted Saturday night that he's decided not try and enforce a short-term quarantine on New York, New Jersey and parts of Connecticut, but a "strong" travel advisory will be issued for those states.

Why it matters: The president said hours earlier he was considering the move to combat the rise in novel coronavirus cases. But he received pushback, most notably from New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D), who told CNN it would cause "chaos." "This would be a federal declaration of war on states," Cuomo added.

Trump weighs quarantine of New York, New Jersey, Connecticut

Data: The Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins; Map: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios

President Trump said Saturday he's considering a short-term quarantine of New York, New Jersey and parts of Connecticut, which have already taken steps to help residents isolate. Gov. Andrew Cuomo reacted to Trump's comments by telling CNN, "This would be a federal declaration of war on states" and that it would cause "chaos."

The big picture: With more than 121,000 people infected, the U.S. has the most COVID-19 cases in the world, exceeding China and Italy, per data from Johns Hopkins. A second wave of American cities, including Boston, Detroit, New Orleans and Philadelphia, are reporting influxes of cases.

Go deeperArrowUpdated 23 mins ago - Health

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

  1. Global: Total confirmed cases as of 7:30 p.m. ET: 660,706 — Total deaths: 30,652 — Total recoveries: 139,304.
  2. U.S.: Leads the world in cases. Total confirmed cases as of 7:30 p.m. ET: 121,478 — Total deaths: 2,026 — Total recoveries: 1,072.
  3. Federal government latest: President Trump is considering a quarantine on New York, parts of New Jersey and Connecticut.
  4. State updates: Alaska is latest state to issue a stay-at-home order — New York is trying to nearly triple its hospital capacity in less than a month and has moved its presidential primary to June 23. Some Midwestern swing voters that supported Trump's handling of the virus less than two weeks ago are now balking at his call for the U.S. to be "opened up" by Easter.
  5. World updates: In Spain, over 1,400 people were confirmed dead between Thursday to Saturday.
  6. 🚀 Space updates: OneWeb filed for bankruptcy amid the novel coronavirus pandemic.
  7. Hollywood: Tom Hanks and Rita Wilson have returned to U.S. after being treated for coronavirus.
  8. What should I do? Answers about the virus from Axios expertsWhat to know about social distancingQ&A: Minimizing your coronavirus risk
  9. Other resources: CDC on how to avoid the virus, what to do if you get it.

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