Friday, May 3, 2019

New Silk Road: US is pushing a false narrative

This was first posted in Asia Times.

Globetrotting Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, has been meeting heads of state in Africa and Latin America to warn them of China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). Watch out for predatory financing and debt trap, he tells them.

At the just concluded Belt and Road Forum, second one ever held, close to 40 heads of state showed up. As Asia Times reported, the “BRI is now supported by no less than 126 states and territories, plus a host of international organizations (including the World Bank and the IMF)--way bigger, diversified and more representative than the G20.”

The Prime Minister of Pakistan, Imran Khan, gave a keynoteat the Forum. He spoke of Pakistan’s longstanding friendship with China and the benefits of the China Pakistan Economic Corridor. He was proud that CPEC, the economic consequences already a “blessing” for Pakistan, was one of the first major projects of BRI.

Khan noted that China has taken more than 800 million people out of poverty and can help Pakistan do the same. With young people making up half of Pakistan’s population, Khan looked forward to Pakistani people learning and benefiting from China’s technological advances so as to maximize his country’s potential. 

Khan concluded his remarks by proposing five initiatives: plant billions of trees to combat climate change, develop tourism to promote people to people exchange and culture understanding, establish office dedicated to combat corruption, learn from China to fight poverty, and move to further liberalize world trade.

He pledged that Pakistan will work with China and fellow members of BRI for a common future of hope and happiness. BRI is obviously no mirage to Khan. Nor to President Vladimir Putin of Russia and Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte, among other leaders that also attended the Forum.

In contrast to Khan’s vision of a common future, what could Pompeo possibly have said to convince third world heads of state that their future lies with the US and not with the BRI? 

China as the world’s loan shark?

Professor Deborah BraĆ¼tigam of Johns Hopkins published a timely op-ed, “Is China the World’s Loan Shark?” in the New York Times to coincide with the Belt Road Forum going in Beijing. She is a world leading authority andmonitorof China’s investments in Africa.

Despite the provocative title, her analysis did not find debt traps in Africa. She found that China’s financing in Africa were within IMF debt ceiling guidelines for those countries. In fact, she concluded that“the idea that the Chinese government is doling out debt strategically, for its benefit, isn’t supported by the facts.”

Sri Lanka’s Hambantota port development, frequently cited by western media as an epitome of China’s capricious design to exploit the third world, was specifically examined by BraĆ¼tigam and the accusation dismissed.

Because of its strategic geographical location, Hambantota has long been regarded, by many international experts, to have the potential of becoming another Singapore by providing service to shipping traffic from the Middle East to Asia. The economic justification for the project was always there.

Sri Lanka asked for international assistance but only China agreed to help. After the port was built, revenue failed to materialize to service the debt due to internal political infighting that prevented the full implementation of a working harbor.

China had to take possession to relieve the debt load. Even so, the debt owed to China amounted to only 10% of Sri Lanka’s total national debt—hardly enough to qualify as a debt trap.

A major gap in the US China relations is the difference between reality on the ground and the distortion and fabrication by the western media and political leaders. Secretary Pompeo is an example of a progenitor of such a gap.

Pompeo’s glorious American experiment
On Pompeo’s return from Latin America, he stopped to talk to the students at Texas A&M and he boasted that when he was the CIA Director, “We lie, we cheat, we steal.” It was the entire training course that “reminds you of the glory of the American experiment.”

No wonder North Korea’s Kim Jong-un does not want anything to do with this American diplomat. 

A lying and cheating Pompeo is simply a personification and extension of his boss, President Donald Trump. Trump considers veracity a sucker’s play, truth inconvenient and facts just another version of fake news.

Thus, all of American’s positions on China, whether on Huawei, 5G, artificial intelligence, IP theft, cyber hacking or any other accusations, are suspect upon closer scrutiny. No one can tell as to what’s fact and what’s fiction coming from Washington.

Gradually and steadily, the rest of the world, even America’s closest allies, are wary of Trump’s single-minded America first and to hell with everything else style of international diplomacy. Unlike collaboration for mutual benefit from the BRI, dealing with the US is all one way for Trump’s benefit.

So far, among the 20 some Democrat candidates for president, none have seen through a naked Trump with no clothes, and that continuing to treat China as the next great adversary does nothing to enhance national security.

Someone with the wisdom and courage needs to step forward and admit that Obama made the mistake when he kept the US from joining the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank and that we are continuing to multiply our mistake by not being part of the BRI.

The would be winning Democratic nominee should listen to PresidentCarter. Hesaid, “We have wasted $3 trillion on defense spending. If we divert $1 trillion into infrastructure, we’d have high speed railroad, we’d have bridges that aren’t collapsing and we’d have roads maintained properly and our education system would be as good as that of, say, South Korea and Hong Kong.”

America desperately needs a leader to define and seek a win-win solution in the relations with China and reverse the development toward a disastrous everybody loses outcome.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

Hi George,
Bravo for including the remarks from Pompeo regarding his "directives" as the CIA Director, as "We lie, we cheat, we steal", even though it was intended as a "joke". However, there must have been lots of "truths" at the CIA, especially combining with the current FBI Director Wray's remarks about all Chinese Americans working for China!