The last few months have seen a significant expansion of the Belt and Road Initiative in Latin America and the Caribbean. Although this region of the world is not the most obvious fit for an undertaking that was originally modelled on the Silk Road – a network of trade routes linking East Asia with the Middle East, Africa and Europe – the reality is that the countries of South America, Central America and the Caribbean share many of the same needs as their counterparts in Central Asia, Southeast Asia, the Middle East and Africa. Most Latin American countries won their formal independence from Spanish and Portuguese colonialism in the 19th century, but they found themselves in the shadow of an incipient North American imperialism.
Belt and Road Initiative
China and Nicaragua have resumed diplomatic relations in what Nicaragua’s Presidential Advisor Laureano Ortega Murillo called “a historic date.” The Government of the Republic of Nicaragua announced it had broken diplomatic relations with Taiwan, ceasing to have any contact or official relationship, in a statement by Foreign Minister Denis Moncada before Nicaraguan diplomats and press, on Thursday and effective immediately. Kawsachun News attended the meeting virtually. Foreign Minister Moncada stated: “The Government of the Republic of Nicaragua declares that it recognizes that in the world there is only one single China. The People’s Republic of China is the only legitimate government that represents all of China and Taiwan is an inalienable part of the Chinese territory.”
“Kashgar is a key location for the land and sea interface of the Belt and Road, connecting not only westward to West Asia, Europe, the Red Sea and Africa, but also southward to the Indian Ocean through the port of Gwadar,” said Professor Li Bo of the China Research Institute, Fudan University. It is, he told us, “a core area of the Belt and Road strategy.” Kashgar, one of the westernmost cities in China, is the main urban area of southern Xinjiang. Traders from across Asia have assembled at its Sunday bazaar for 2,000 years. More than 1,000 kilometers north of Kashgar is the town of Nur-Sultan, previously known as Astana, the capital of Kazakhstan. Here, in 2013, Chinese President Xi Jinping spoke about the need for a “Silk Road Economic Belt.
China, we are told, inveigles poorer countries into taking out loan after loan to build expensive infrastructure that they can’t afford and that will yield few benefits, all with the end goal of Beijing eventually taking control of these assets from its struggling borrowers. As states around the world pile on debt to combat the coronavirus pandemic and bolster flagging economies, fears of such possible seizures have only amplified. Seen this way, China’s internationalization—as laid out in programs such as the Belt and Road Initiative—is not simply a pursuit of geopolitical influence but also, in some tellings, a weapon.
A few months after the publication of his remarkable book, Adam Smith in Beijing, I had an illuminating conversation with Giovanni Arrighi about the significance of China in world history. The late sociologist was interested in knowing more about the subject of my scholarship–modern Iran and the Iranian revolution. When he saw my puzzled face, he told me that he believes that all this apprehension in the west about Iran, is actually rooted in apprehension about China. Arrighi thought that if there were any “mainstream” of world history, it ought to be located in the story of China, the only civilization that has shaped the world as a hegemon over many millennia with the exception of the last 250 years.
Two of the US’s top ‘strategic threats’ are getting closer and closer within the scope of the New Silk Roads — the leading 21st century project of economic integration across Eurasia. The Deep State will not be amused. Iranian foreign ministry spokesman Abbas Mousavi blasted as ‘lies’ a series of rumours about the ‘transparent roadmap’ inbuilt in the evolving Iran-China strategic partnership. That was complemented by president Rouhani’s chief of staff, Mahmoud Vezi, who said that ‘a destructive line of propaganda has been initiated and directed from outside Iran against the expansion of Iran’s relations with neighbours and especially (with) China and Russia.’ Vezi added, ‘this roadmap in which a path is defined for expansion of relations between governments and the private sectors is signed and will continue to be signed between many countries.’
When President Xi Jinping was on a phone call in mid-March with Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conti, before the arrival of a China Eastern flight from Shanghai to Milan full of medical help, the key takeaway was the Chinese pledge to develop a Health Silk Road (Jiankang Sichou Zhilu). That was in fact already inbuilt in the Belt and Road Initiative playbook since at least 2017, under the framework of enhanced, pan-Eurasian health connectivity. The pandemic only accelerated the timeline. The Health Silk Road will run in parallel to the multiple overland Silk Road corridors and the Maritime Silk Road. In a graphic demonstration of soft power, so far China has offered Covid-19-related equipment and medical help to no fewer than 89 nations – and counting.
The New Silk Roads – or Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) – were launched by President Xi Jinping in 2013, first in Central Asia (Nur-Sultan) and then Southeast Asia (Jakarta). One year later, the Chinese economy overtook the U.S. on a PPP basis. Inexorably, year after year since the start of the millennium, the U.S. share of the global economy shrinks while China’s increases. A vast array of nations across the Global South signed on to be part of BRI, which is planned for completion in 2049. Last year alone, Chinese companies signed contracts worth up to $128 billion in large-scale infrastructure projects in dozen of nations. The only economic competitor to the U.S. is busy reconnecting most of the world to a 21st century, fully networked version of a trade system that was at its peak for over a millennia: the Eurasian Silk Roads.
In order to mount a serious challenge to American empire, the U.S. anti-war movement must understand the terms of engagement: economic terrorism through sanctions and political isolation and destabilization have become the primary modes of U.S. imperialism. Often obscured by overt acts of military violence, U.S. hybrid warfare waged against not only Iran but Venezuela, Bolivia, North Korea, and China is the primary contradiction facing the global struggle against imperialism. For too long, U.S. critics of American empire have evaded the derisively termed “China question” in favor of false equivalences and the repetition of U.S. state talking points. But behind the Cold War rhetoric, China has proven itself as a strategic ally for countless nations with which U.S. leftists claim solidarity.
Today, in the western world we have lost this concept. The terms of trade are imposed always by the ‘stronger’ partner, the west versus the poorer south – the south where most of the natural resources are lodged. Mother Earth’s assets have been and are coveted by the west – or north – for building and maintaining a lifestyle in luxury, abundance and waste. This trend has lasted for centuries of western colonialism: Exploitation, loot, esclavisation and rape of entire peoples of the Global South by the Global North, to use the current soothing World Bank lingo.
U.S. Imperial Decline And The Belt And Road Initiative: The Most Important Global Struggle Of The Century
The U.S. is once again mired in the political circus of the presidential election cycle. Corporate Democrats have aligned themselves firmly against the social democratic aspirations of the Sandernistas. The Republican Party has collapsed at the feet of chief arch-racist billionaire Donald Trump and will remain under his political thumb for as long as there is a White Man’s Party. A crisis off legitimacy has been set off by the economic condition of the U.S. imperial system where slow growth stagnation, austerity, and endless war reigns supreme.
Ultimately the issue for the United States will not be about emotional responses to what China says or does, but rather in its ability to stay on the frontiers of science, the wellspring of future technological development. The federal government is incapable of setting the pace during the dark ages of Trump. It is the decline of scientific thinking, rather than any particular technology, that has made the Trump administration’s policies possible. The citizens of the United States need to recognize the critical importance of science for the future of humanity and not be too proud to learn something from China.