China is playing a zero-sum game internationally and willing to win at all costs. That certainly won’t be Chinese President Xi Jinping’s message to world leaders at the second Belt and Road Initiative Forum in Beijing this week, but that is the reality.
For the last two decades, China fooled the world into believing it would embrace the rules-based international order and become a responsible stakeholder.
Instead, China has used its membership in the World Trade Organization as an instrument for its economic advancement aimed directly at the expense of other more developed member states. Moreover, it has tightened its one-party authoritarian rule, increased repression of domestic dissent, and escalated human rights abuses within its borders. And it is building up its military’s might—including new capabilities to menace Taiwan, Japan, and other neighbors to threaten U.S. forces in the Indo-Pacific region, and to project power globally.
China now is trying to fool the world again by luring foreign governments to join its Belt and Road Initiative with extravagant promises of Chinese investment for their infrastructure projects.
Some countries have already learned hard lessons from Beijing’s debt-trap diplomacy. For example, Sri Lanka was forced to give a Chinese state-owned company majority control of its $1.3 billion Hambantota port for 99 years after it defaulted on a Chinese loan, and Pakistan is now seeking to drastically curb borrowing from China as it faces a mounting debt crisis.
Yet these and other cautionary tales aren’t deterring everyone. Last March, Italy became the first G7 nation to sign on to the Belt and Road Initiative. Alarmingly, the United Kingdom appears willing to allow some Chinese hardware into the development of their 5G network. More countries in Europe and other regions may soon follow.
This is stunningly naive.