China itself will discover that lending money to its more poorly governed neighbors is not always a profitable business. And foreign policy analysts who see the Belt and Road as a Chinese-style Marshall Plan will be disappointed as the bubble of sky-high expectations pops. For the United States, there is little to fear in the Belt and Road. Asia may get some useful new roads, but the region will also see the limits of Chinese power projection, even in a sphere such as infrastructure where China has a comparative advantage.The article focusses on the ways in which such assistance, particularly in the form of loans, might go wrong, and the ways in which more consumer buying power in China might foster exports from the neighboring countries to China.
The headline numbers associated with the Belt and Road are impressive, and purposefully so. Asia needs lots of infrastructure and an economic vision. China has an impressive track record building highways and high-speed trains across its own vast territory. With Washington distracted by domestic politics, Beijing rightly sees a chance to set the agenda in Asia. Hence the initiative, which was first launched in 2015, has been repeatedly expanded. Last weekend’s summit in Beijing demonstrated China’s ability to convene heads of state—at least when it is promising them vast sums of money.
Nowhere, though, does the article mention the Chinese intermodal trains now roving as far as England. Nothing quite like a productive Neglected Actor.