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Connecting the Dots
The Belt and Road Initiative brings both opportunities and challenges to Sino-U.S. ties
By Zhao Minghao | NO. 46 NOVEMBER 16, 2017

The author is a member of the academic committee of Pangoal Institution and Deputy Chief for Strategic Studies at China Center for Contemporary World Studies, the in-house think tank of International Department of the CPC’s Central Committee.

The 19th National Congress of the Communist Party of China (CPC) has ushered in a new era for China, in which a two-step approach will be taken to build China into a great modern socialist country that is prosperous, strong, democratic, culturally advanced, harmonious, and beautiful by the middle of the century.

To become great in the 21st century, a country should resort to the power of connectivity. And the Belt and Road Initiative is an effective way to build a community of shared future for mankind and a key connectivity-oriented approach to achieve the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation. As Xi Jinping, General Secretary of the CPC Central Committee, said: "No country can address alone the many challenges facing mankind; no country can afford to retreat into self-isolation."

In the past four years, the Belt and Road Initiative has gained momentum and growing support from the international community. A total of 43 countries have signed up to participate in the initiative. The UN Security Council adopted a resolution in March 2016 which urged greater efforts to strengthen regional economic cooperation through initiatives such as the Belt and Road Initiative.

Also, the Trump administration has showed a positive attitude toward the initiative. During the meeting between Xi and his U.S. counterpart Donald Trump at the Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida in April, China invited the United States to take part in the initiative. One month later, a U.S. delegation led by Matt Pottinger, Senior Director for Asia at the National Security Council, attended the Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation. And in June, Trump said that the U.S. was willing to conduct cooperation in relevant projects of the Belt and Road Initiative while meeting Chinese State Councilor Yang Jiechi after the first China-U.S. diplomatic and security dialogue.

Both sides should figure out how to interact positively and create a win-win space in the framework of the initiative, thus injecting new impetus into global development and governance. The two heads of state should join hands to create a new landscape for the Sino-U.S. relations with unprecedented global perspectives, historical vision and political wisdom. Trump's first state visit to China offers such an opportunity for the two sides to do so.

New cooperation platform

The Belt and Road Initiative provides a new platform for the two countries to enrich their cooperation agenda. They can work together to encourage cooperation in the private business sector and in the public security realm in the framework of the initiative.

First, the two sides should encourage "third party" cooperation in the private sector, which is expected to bring development opportunities for international enterprises. It's reported by The Economist that many Western companies along the Belt and Road are profiting by selling billions of dollars' worth of equipment, technology and services to Chinese firms busy with construction along the routes. For example, U.S.-based General Electric Co. raked in $2.3 billion in equipment orders from the Belt and Road projects in 2016, nearly tripling the total for the previous year. Other engineering companies such as Bechtel and Halliburton also wanted to take advantage of the initiative, but had no idea how to take part.

Therefore, China can brief U.S. business circles more about the Belt and Road Initiative, offer more specialized projects for American enterprises, and encourage Chinese companies to team up with their U.S. counterparts to jointly run the projects.

Second, China and the U.S. can also scale up cooperation in international mechanisms. Jin Liqun, President of Asia Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB), reiterated that AIIB would not exclude American companies. The global population now tops 7 billion, but the existing infrastructure can only meet the needs of 3 billion people. The Belt and Road Initiative is expected to help improve infrastructure in countries along the Belt and Road, which will in turn create a better investment environment for American companies which have an eye on business in those regions.

Third, China and the United States can team up in safeguarding global security. Although the Belt and Road Initiative is not security-oriented, many countries are now assessing it from a geopolitical security perspective. Many of the countries along the Belt and Road have long been mired in poverty and political turmoil. Most of them are located in Central and South Asia, as well as the Middle East. Maintaining stability in these regions is beneficial not only to the countries there, but also the whole world. China and the United States can join hands in addressing international security issues such as counter-terrorism, anti-piracy, and the crackdown on trans-national crimes.

Addressing challenges

The Belt and Road Initiative brings both opportunities and challenges to the shaping of new Sino-U.S. ties.

With the implementation of the initiative, Washington and various think tanks are still worried that China, with economic cooperation projects, is trying to pursue a de-Americanized world and a new international order. Thus, conflicts and competition in geoeconomics, international mechanisms and development models between the two sides may increase.

Also, with the U.S.'s diminished budget for diplomacy and international development, it's not possible for the Trump administration to take many concrete steps to improve the initiative. More efforts should be made to encourage positive bilateral exchanges in the framework of the Belt and Road Initiative.

The Belt and Road Initiative, on one hand, can create new engines to drive China-U.S.

cooperation; on the other hand, it may sharpen the geoeconomic and geopolitical competition between the world's two largest economies.

The two sides should adopt the emerging sharing economy concept and strive to figure out ways to conduct win-win cooperation in the framework of the Belt and Road Initiative. They should reposition their relationship, and share both the power and responsibilities, hence together creating a better future and more benefits for people of the two countries and beyond.

The author is a member of the academic committee of Pangoal Institution and Deputy Chief for Strategic Studies at China Center for Contemporary World Studies

Copyedited by Francisco Little

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