The headlines coming out of this year’s APEC conference in Papua New Guinea focused on the conflict between America and China that kept the forum from issuing a joint communiqué. Less noticed were two short memorandums released on the sidelines of the conference by the island nations of Vanuatu and Tonga. In return for renegotiating existing debt, both agreed to become the newest participants—following other Pacific nations like Papua New Guinea and Fiji—in Chinese President Xi Jinping’s signature foreign-policy venture, the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).
As Xi’s trillion-dollar development strategy has snaked away from the Eurasian heartland and into the South Pacific, western Africa, and Latin America, concern has grown. Many Americans fear that the belt and road initiative route is an extension of efforts by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) to undermine the security and economic architecture of the international order. China’s growing largesse, they worry, comes largely at the expense of international institutions and American influence.This angst lies behind another announcement made at last month’s APEC gathering: Australia, Japan, and the United States declared that they had formed their own trilateral investment initiative to help meet infrastructure needs in the Indo-Pacific. For some this is not enough: In its most recent report to the United States Congress, the bipartisan U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission recommended that Congress create an additional fund “to provide additional bilateral assistance for countries that are a target of or vulnerable to Chinese economic or diplomatic pressure.”
This is the wrong response to the Belt and Road Initiative. Ignore the hype: For the Chinese, this initiative has been a strategic blunder By buying into the flawed idea that barrels of money are all that is needed to solve complex geopolitical problems, China has committed a colossal error. Xi’s dictatorship makes it almost impossible for the country to admit this mistake or abandon his pet project. The United States and its allies gain nothing from making China’s blunders their own.