Why the U.S. should join BRI
Ken Moak

Editor's note: Ken Moak taught economic theory, public policy and globalization at the university level for 33 years. He co-authored a book titled "China's Economic Rise and Its Global Impact" in 2015. The article reflects the author's opinion, and not necessarily the views of CGTN.

Chinese Ambassador to the U.S., Cui Tiankai is right: The U.S. should join China's Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). The obvious reason is U.S.'s national interests. China has the resources and expertise to repair and upgrade America's crumpling infrastructures which are needed to improve transportation and therefore economic efficiency. American firms would have access to the huge Chinese market of 1.4 billion plus many more people in the over 100 countries participating in the BRI.

U.S. President Donald Trump himself admits the country needs over 1.5 trillion U.S. dollars, which the government will struggle to fund to fix or upgrade its crumbling infrastructures. According to the CIA World Factbook, U.S. public debt to GDP ratio could exceed 130 percent in 2109. Tapping into China's BRI infrastructure investment funds could resolve part of the huge funding needs.

Building infrastructure and other construction projects have huge multiplier effects, spurring economic growth in upstream and downstream industries. For example, bridge repair requires steel and other industrial products which turn need commodities such as iron ore. These economic activities create employment, boosting the prospects of tertiary sectors such as retail trade.

Joining the BRI, too, would increase opportunities for American construction and engineering firms to bid on the massive global infrastructures needs, particularly in the developing world. 

According to the World Bank, 4.5 percent of GDP would be required to achieve the infrastructure-related Sustainable Development Goals by 2030. They include access to electricity, sanitation and a host of other infrastructure needs. More funds would be needed if other infrastructure projects are included.

What's more, working with China through the BRI or other platforms could afford America a “peace dividend” in which the huge defense spending.  

According to a March 10 CNN report, the defense budget for 2018 was nearing 700 billion U.S. dollars. The Pentagon is asking for increases to the amount for 2019 and 2020, presumably to counter the Chinese and Russian “threats.” Trump himself said the money could be better spent elsewhere.

A sign promoting the Belt and Road Forum in Beijing, April 22, 2019. /VCG Photo.

A sign promoting the Belt and Road Forum in Beijing, April 22, 2019. /VCG Photo.

Establishing good relations (i.e. joining BRI) with China could allow the government to channel the money to spend on socio-economic enhancement projects such as education and healthcare. Attaining a healthy and educated labor force should increase productivity and competitiveness, leading to sustainable long-term economic growth.

Joining the BRI should improve the global geopolitical and security environment, particularly when it is being integrated into the Russian-led Eurasian Economic Union (EEU). With the world's three most powerful nations working together, global peace might be in the horizon, which in turn would promote economic development and growth.

In that light, there's every valid economic or geopolitical reason for the U.S. to join the BRI, begging the question: Why did it not? Might it be because America is worrying about national security and losing its global dominance?

National security concerns

In the past year, the U.S. government has reduced the length of visa from 10 years to one issued to Chinese scholars, heads of academic institutions and think tanks and students studying S.T.E.M. subjects (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) over spying and technological theft concerns. For example, the New York Times reported on April 14 that 30 Chinese nationals had their visa shortened to one year or cancelled because they were suspected of being spies of the Chinese government.

However, very few if any Chinese scholars, experts, administrators and students were indicted on the allegations. For those who were charged, most did nothing more than taking their research home. Besides, the information they sent to China could be found on Google. But fear and paranoia prevailed over rational policy decisions.

Fear of losing dominance

Since the end of the Second World War, the U.S. is determined to write the world's rules. Taking control of and writing policies for the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank and the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade were for that purpose. Protecting U.S. dominance over world affairs were a major foreign policy priority for every president since then.

For example, former president Barack Obama's foreign policy signature, the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP), was meant to ensure America continues to write the global trade and financial systems. The TPP excluded China, but welcomed it only if the Asian giant “lives by the rules” set by the U.S.

U.S. President Trump is even more vocal in maintaining U.S. supremacy. Trump mounted a trade war against China was not over current account deficits, but an excuse for the conflict. 

First, the deficit figure is highly inflated because it did not make allowance for re-export values. Second, China has agreed to buy more U.S. products.

The Second Belt and  Road Forum for International Cooperation (BRF) opens in Beijing, April 25, 2019. /VCG Photo

The Second Belt and  Road Forum for International Cooperation (BRF) opens in Beijing, April 25, 2019. /VCG Photo

Rather, the war was to stifle China's rapid economic, technological and military rise, enabling it to challenge American supremacy. Taking the reasoning to its conclusion, joining the BRI would be seen as caving to Chinese dominance, an unthinkable prospect that would be vehemently opposed by the political establishment.  

The fact of the matter is that China has never threatened America, its military build up is defensive in nature and to prevent foreign invasion. Economic rise is to improve people's livelihood.

However, it seems that China is America's “biggest threat” only because the Asian giant is not toeing the U.S. line.

Ironically, paranoid over spying and maintaining supremacy have harmed (and will likely continue to hurt) America's national interests.

Paranoia and fear harm US national interest

Reducing or stopping collaboration between Chinese and U.S. scholars and experts on addressing issues that concern both countries and the world could erode the quality of research and the pursuit of academic excellence.

It was a relatively open immigration policy that attracted the world's best and brightest to American shores in the first place, making America the hub of global innovation. Restricting Chinese scholars from collaborating with their American counterparts could dethrone the U.S. position.

Fearing the loss of dominance has squandered many opportunities. The trade war did not reduce U.S. deficits, but has raised production costs and consumer prices, culminating in a U.S. economic slowdown. Too, U.S. farmers are on the verge of financial stress because of Chinese tit-for-tat and falling prices. The list of economic losses is long.

Joining the BRI would reverse the losses and might even turn Trump's slogan “Make America Great Again” into a reality.

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