By Yang Fanxin Source: China.org.cn Published: 2019-4-10
Foreign ministers from the Group of Seven (G7) concluded their two-day annual meeting in Dinard, western France, on April 6 with a joint communique acknowledging China's capacity to make important contributions to global public goods. This could be an indicator of the split among G7 powers on views towards the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), which some developed countries demonize as a sign of China's economic orbit and as an obstacle to their own alliances.
Skepticism around the BRI has always existed. In December 2018, U.S. National Security Adviser John R. Bolton claimed in a speech that the ultimate goal of the Belt and Road Initiative is to advance Chinese global dominance. James Holmes of the U.S. Naval War College has similarly expressed the belief that the BRI will enable China to gradually eject the U.S. from Asia over time, while weaning away its allies. Vali Nasr, dean of the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS), believes that the Silk Road, which links China-EU trade, will change the concept of "Asia" and the world order. But in fact, the BRI refers to the integration of East and West and reflects the rise of Asia as a whole, not just the Asia-Pacific region.
Holdover from the Cold War
Taking a historic view, the U.S. system of alliances is a legacy of the Cold War, following which successive U.S. administrations sought to strengthen its global position by adapting to new strategic trends and regional changes. Today, that system remains as the foundation of U.S. diplomatic relations and global security. By establishing a series of permanent military bases, operational bases and cooperative security points in allied countries, the U.S. effectively protects its global interests and can handle regional crises based on those interests. As the famous American scholar Zbigniew Brzezinski wrote, "The supremacy of the United States in the world is supported by a fine system of alliances covering the whole world."
However, under Trump's "America First" policy, the U.S. alliance system has encountered unprecedented crisis. On December 4, 2017, Gideon Rachman of the Financial Times wrote in "Farewell Uncle Sam, Hello Uncle Donald" about the status quo and future development of U.S.-ally relations since President Donald Trump took office. Focusing on the three closest American allies – the U.K., Australia and Japan – Rachman concluded that if these alliance systems were to disintegrate, the global strength of the United States would collapse.
At the end of the Cold War, the Americans encountered a crisis of legitimacy in the Asia-Pacific region. With the disappearance of the Soviet threat, U.S. military presence was newly questioned by countries in the region, including allies. In addition, due to the emergence of nationalism in the Philippines, Japan and other countries, the U.S.-Japan alliance stagnated and the U.S. army was swept out of the Philippine military base, leaving the U.S.'s leadership in the region tottering.
U.S. loss of power in the 21st century
Since the beginning of the 21st century, on one hand, due to emphasis on the "war against terror," the U.S.'s attention to the Asia-Pacific region has faltered. Under the name of joint counter-terrorism, the Bush administration gave the Asia-Pacific allies a new mission. Alliances with Japan, South Korea and Australia have surpassed the security of the Asia-Pacific region and become involved in the Middle East and Central Asia.
On the other hand, the United States has gone through two regional wars and one financial crisis, with its strategic resources drastically overdrawn and its power and prestige battered. Therefore, its ability to control the order in the Asia-Pacific region has declined. Meanwhile, the region has experienced a period of rapid development rarely seen in history; with structural changes in power and integration processes, the dominant position of the United States in the region has met with limitations. The rise of emerging countries in the Asia-Pacific region and the voices of dissent from its own allies have made the U.S. anxious about an unprecedented loss of hegemony.
Unable to maintain operation of the alliance system, the U.S. therefore casts the BRI as a scapegoat. When the U.S. diplomatic environment is facing new changes, its economy is fluctuating, and it is unable to bear the high cost of maintaining hegemony any more, the gap between its ability to implement foreign policy and its target of maintaining vital national interests is expanding. The U.S. has acutely felt that its status of superpower has been challenged. Moreover, some of its allies are accustomed to enjoying the protection provided by the United States, which also places its authority at stake.
Asia on the rise
The Asia-Pacific region is one of the most dynamic areas with the greatest growth potential in the world today. In the context of the world economy, the Asia-Pacific economy, despite positive trends, is also facing uncertainty and challenges such as stagnant growth. China's BRI, with interconnectivity as the acting point, promotes the flow of production factors and public goods to further unleash economic growth potential.
China has achieved rapid development in its own rightwhileintegrating into the international economic system. The BRI shows China's intent to open up through extensive reforms of economic structures, and it promotes further integration of all parties into the global market through interconnectivity. Italy became the first member of the G7 to formally join the initiative, and its decision to join is a positive move that will help boost its economy and cooperation between the two countries. The United States' Asia-Pacific alliances never were a cooperative development system, so no matter where it goes, it cannot place blame on the BRI.
Yang Fanxin is an associate research fellow at the Chongyang Institute for Financial Studies, Renmin University of China.