One of the most important events of the year happened last weekend in Beijing, but few U.S. news organizations gave much notice.
President Xi Jinping and representatives of more than 100 other countries, including Russian President Vladimir Putin and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, got together to hash out how to spend nearly $1 trillion—that’s TRILLION—of China’s money. The United States’ delegation got an upgrade in the growing bromance between President Trump and Xi.
The project, now called “Belt and Road,” is arguably the most extensive and expensive rebuilding program since the Marshall Plan after World War II.
Following the old trading routes of the infamous Silk Road, the projects stretch across 65 countries in Asia, Africa and Europe via land and sea in a mixture of financial investments and foreign policy. Here is just a taste of some of the plans:
–China is financing more than a third of the $23.7 billion cost of the Hinkley Point C nuclear power plant on the Somerset coast of southwest England. The project, in a major western economy, was added to the Belt and Road plan to give added prestige.
–China financed most of the $4 billion cost of Africa’s first transnational electric railway, which opened this year and runs for 466 miles from Djibouti to Addis Ababa, the capital of Ethiopia.
–A deepwater port at Gwadar on the Arabian Sea will be linked by new roads and rail to western China’s Xinjiang region, creating a shortcut for trade with Europe. The port is part of $46 billion China says it is spending on infrastructure and power plants in the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor.
–China is leading a $6 billion investment to build a 260-mile rail line from northern Laos to the capital, Vientiane. Mountainous terrain means bridges and tunnels will account for more than 60 percent of the line, and construction is further complicated by the need to clear unexploded land mines left from American bombing of the country during the Vietnam War.
Although most of the work will be done by Chinese companies, U.S. businesses like GE and Caterpillar are vying for some of the action.
The plan is not without its critics. India, for example, failed to show up for the weekend meeting because its leaders are not happy about a project that goes through Kashmir, land claimed by both India and Pakistan.
Whatever the case, the initiative will be the signature dish of President Xi—one that is likely to gain more than a few friends throughout the world.
Note: The Wall Street Journal has a funny piece about the PR campaigns for the plan at https://www.wsj.com/articles/coffee-classical-music-and-wrestling-celebrate-chinese-infrastructure-1494862432