House Panel Raises Alarm Over China’s Belt and Road Initiative

Ryan Morgan
By Ryan Morgan
May 16, 2024China News
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The U.S. House Select Committee on Strategic Competition between the United States and the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) raised warnings on Thursday that the Chinese regime is using its Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) to indebt and then leverage influence over the developing world.

At a hearing titled “All Roads Lead to Beijing? The CCP’s Global Development Offensive,” committee members heard from Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation and Institute President and CEO David Trulio, Center for Strategic & International Studies (CSIS) Senior Vice President Daniel Runde, and Brad Parks, who is the executive director of AidData at William & Mary’s Global Research Institute.

Mr. Trulio testified during the hearing that the BRI has established a presence in more than 100 countries around the world.

“I don’t think any of us want to live in a world dominated by the Chinese Communist Party,” Mr. Trulio told NTD News on the sidelines of the hearing. “So to the extent that BRI contributes to more Chinese influence, and coercive pressure against countries around the world, that’s not a good thing.”

The Reagan Foundation president contends that where BRI’s influence grows, human rights falter.

“With deeper integration to the [People’s Republic of China] through the Belt and Road Initiative, that actually constrains those countries’ ability to behave in a way that advances human rights, because China has coercive pressure on them,” Mr. Trulio said.

Mr. Trulio said the economic development BRI projects bring can help bolster support for regimes with poor human rights records.

The Reagan Foundation president said the infrastructure projects the CCP is able to establish around the world could serve other ulterior motives.

“The concern has to do with dual use, or even as we heard, triple use,” Mr. Trulio said. “So a commercial port could have, potentially, intelligence collection implications, or it could have, potentially in a conflict, military uses.”

‘The CCP Is Not Acting as a Creditor in Good Faith’: Auchincloss

Driving fears that the CCP is using global development projects to gain influence over developing countries, is the concern that these development projects trap host countries into projects they cannot easily afford.

“The Chinese Communist Party has been loaning out more than a trillion dollars, and those loans are coming due, and the countries that owe them can’t pay them,” Rep. Jake Auchincloss (D-Mass.) told NTD News following the hearing.

Mr. Auchincloss said some countries hosting BRI projects have poor liquidity to service debts incurred with these development projects, while others are “downright insolvent.” He said not every BRI recipient country struggles to handle these debts, “but it’s a big chunk of it.”

“The CCP is not acting as a creditor in good faith,” the Massachusetts Democrat added. “They are turning those loans into forms of subservience by these countries and are extracting political concessions in lieu of economic ones.”

Committee Chairman John Moolenaar (R-Mich.) said the CCP’s strategy with BRI is a far cry from how the United States handles its own foreign economic development projects.

“When we do economic development, or try and partner with countries, we try and build relationships that are lasting partnerships and trading relationships,” Mr. Moolenaar said. “When China does it, it’s really an exploitation, and something that they will leverage every way possible to advance the goals of the Chinese Communist Party.”

China Calls BRI ‘Debt Trap’ Accusations Overhyped

Chinese regime officials have disputed characterizations that the BRI is a “debt-trap” program intended to subvert developing nations. The Chinese Foreign Ministry called such characterizations “malicious” and hyped up in a January 2022 press statement as then-Foreign Minister Wang Yi paid a visit to the Nigerian capital city of Lagos.

Chatham House, a London-based think tank, offered a slightly different defense of BRI in a 2020 assessment—that the Chinese foreign development initiative appears to lack the level of coordination needed to advance major CCP strategic objectives.

“The Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) is frequently portrayed as a geopolitical strategy that ensnares countries in unsustainable debt and allows China undue influence,” the Chatham House report states. “However, the available evidence challenges this position: economic factors are the primary driver of current BRI projects; China’s development financing system is too fragmented and poorly coordinated to pursue detailed strategic objectives; and developing-country governments and their associated political and economic interests determine the nature of BRI projects on their territory.”

Dr. Park offered some similar sentiments in his Thursday testimony before the House.

“There are valid criticisms of China’s overseas lending practices, but ‘debt trap diplomacy’ is not one of them,” Dr. Park said in his prepared statement. “There is simply no evidentiary foundation for the claim that Beijing is plying foreign governments with oversized loans to push them into default and take control of their seaports, airports, and electricity grids.”

US Should Offer ‘Competing Terms’ to Counter CCP: Krishnamoorthi

During the Thursday hearing, Mr. Runde testified that the U.S. government should look for ways to compete against the BRI, rather than simply call for developing nations to eschew ties with the Chinese regime.

“My main message is this: In this era of great power competition, the United States needs an alternative solution, rather than demand that developing countries cease working with the CCP,” the CSIS executive said. “We can’t fight something with nothing.”

Dr. Park argued that the Chinese regime has overhauled the BRI significantly in recent years, including implementing measures to address reputational risks in countries with “BRI buyer’s remorse”

“China itself has proven that it is capable of making course corrections to address the grievances of BRI participants and the reservations of potential BRI participants. As such, the [U.S. government] needs to constitute a rapid response capability if it wants to ensure that it can identify and respond to address the unmet needs of partner countries with alacrity,” he said.

Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi (D-Ill.), the ranking member on the House Select Committee on the CCP, echoed some of those sentiments in his own comments to NTD News following the hearing.

“We should be offering competing terms, we should be getting into this because it’s very important that the Chinese not, for instance, develop deepwater ports that then they militarize that harm our national security. In addition to that, obviously building our soft power muscles is a good thing, too,” Mr. Krishnamoorthi said.

Mr. Auchincloss said the United States has capabilities on the global economic development front but “we’ve got to cut through our own red tape and get this stuff done at volume and velocity so that we can really compete.”

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