Is it so hard for American foreign policy scholars to give credits to China for her foreign policy success? The case in point is about China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). This column piece appears here because it will never be accepted by Foreign Policy (FP, A prominent journal on foreign policy) where only papers defaming or making criticism on China appear. Recently, on the FP website, a paper entitled, China’s Global Critics Are Helping It Win, by Joshua Eisenman and Devin T. Stewart, October 30, 2019, caught my attention. The following papers suggested for further reading by FP, Belt and Road Tests China’s Image in Pakistan - by Daud Khattak , Can China Deliver a Better Belt and Road? - by Jamie Horsley, China’s Belt and Road Initiative Is a Corruption Bonanza - by Will Doig, compelled me to write this column piece.
I have written a few times about BRI since its beginning in 2013 known as One Belt and One Road (OBOR) tracking its origin and progress as well as its problems and criticisms appeared in the media. Perhaps influenced by the Silk Road history I had learned in my youth, I was glad to learn such a proposal. But I was duly concerned with its magnitude and scope which definitely will challenge China for its implementation from finance, engineering and foreign relations points of view. Therefore, I could understand if any country was hesitant to endorse or join the program and any foreign policy scholar was critical about its potential problems. However, as an economic development program chartered to encourage inter-State collaboration and to produce win-win economic results, even possible social and cultural benefits, I don’t see any reason for anyone to oppose or sabotage the program. Rather, I expect to see analysts to encourage participation in BRI and keep a critical eye on its progress. My previous papers on BRI appeared in this column (#312, 8/10/2019, #302, 5/25/2019, #301, 5/18/2019, #297, 4/20/2019, #296, 4/13/2019, #168, 10/29/2016, #91, 5/9/2015) were written with the above attitude.
As seven years have passed and 126 countries have joined the BRI program, BRI must be considered as the most significant foreign policy ever introduced by any nation in a peaceful time with a positive objective (not a war or anti-war alliance). As an American citizen, I do not understand why the United States would not take part in such an international program and make a positive influence and contribution to it. It is reasonable to make criticism (such as warning on finance burden and analysis on inadequate payback) but it is unreasonable to discredit them if China and many participating countries had weathered through the financing problems or made mutually agreeable debt-equity swap to sustain their part of the BRI development. Eisenman and Stewart’s article is obviously biased to wish the BRI to fail (or hoping China has ignored the criticism and failed miserably). As foreign policy scholars, the authors underestimated the wisdom of the policy makers in China and her partner countries. Why wouldn’t they understand the problems and criticisms? Why wouldn’t they even foresee those problems and solve them? In all fairness, they, not the criticizers, deserve the credit if they win or succeed.
Eisenman and Stewart started their essay with the story of Hong Kong’s protest and NBA Houston Rockets’ blunder in handling general manager Daryl Morey’s irresponsible tweet about Hong Kong’s protest. After seven months of demonstrations in Hong Kong, even common folks now know that there were fake reports about the Hong Kong protest. The protest against amendment of extradition law for criminals should have ceased after the Hong Kong government scrapped the amendment attempt. (Even though the extradition law is needed to include Taiwan so that a murder, Chen Tong Jia, a Hong Kong citizen, killed his pregnant girlfriend in Taiwan and escaped back to Hong Kong avoiding murder charges, could be brought to justice.) On the contrary, the Hong Kong protests were agitated by external influence and turned violent destroying properties and hurting innocent people and police.
President Trump knew and called the Hong Kong protest as riot long before lots footage of riot scene circulated through the Internet contradicting the fake news reporting. Thus now even common folks know that the Hong Kong protest is not for freedom and democracy. The Hong Kong people have more freedom than Americans as they have gotten away with rioting. (Which would never be permitted in the U.S.) So Morey’s tweet supporting Hong Kong protest is just like supporting violence or hate crime or racial slur which cannot be tolerated as freedom of speech. The Chinese people certainly have the right to be angry at Houston Rockets and NBA that they made insincere apologies, different in Chinese and English versions, and tried hypocritically to hide behind the shield of freedom of speech. I am totally surprised that Eisenman and Stewart would use the Houston Rockets’ case to support his opening statement: ”The American public has suddenly awoken to China’s pervasive influence over U.S. corporations.“ The U.S. has used business sanctions and boycotts freely to punish foreign corporations for their misbehavior. I think the Americans are wise enough to know that on this issue the China is mimicking the U.S. to use boycotting NBA games to punish them.
As a foreign policy, the BRI is genuinely a Chinese proposal in many ways completely opposite to the isolationism the U.S. seems to be adopting lately. Since WW II, the U.S. has been the strongest leader in the world engaging everywhere on the globe. However, our current foreign policy has been shying away from international obligations, for example, withdrawing from Paris Climate Change Agreement, Trans Pacific Partnership (Trade agreement), UN Education Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), and UN Human Rights Organization (UNHRO). We also did not join the UN Convention of Laws of the Seas (UNCLOS) which makes us less righteous in making claims on ocean rights (such as Freedom of Navigation) in the South China Sea. China and South East Asian countries are members of UNCLOS and they are working on a policy regarding ‘Proper Conduct in the South China Sea’ (PCSCS). When PCSCS is ready, the U.S. has to either accept it or ignore it showing the world that the U.S. is an ocean bully.
From foreign policy perspective, globalization is a de facto phenomenon whether one likes it or not. The BRI program aligns very well with the principles of globalization. There were 68 countries 65% of world populations and over 40% world GDP participating in BRI in 2017. In 2019, it has 126 countries and 29 international organizations involved with BRI. The second annual BRI conference held in Beijing had 29 head of States attended. Should the U.S. stubbornly refuse to join the BRI? I don’t think so. The FP journal and its foreign policy scholars are doing a disservice to our country by keep publishing biased articles regarding China’s foreign policies, especially the widely accepted BRI.