BEIJING—At the recent APEC CEO Summit in Vietnam, President Donald Trump said the United States would refocus its existing development efforts in Asia toward infrastructure investment that promotes economic growth. While the room was full of hundreds of corporate and government officials from the region and around the world, Trump was delivering his remarks to an audience of one: China. “We are … committed to reforming our development finance institutions so that they better incentivize private sector investment in your economies, and provide strong alternatives to state-directed initiatives that come with many strings attached,” he said.
But there are few signs that Washington has the political appetite to compete with the kinds of investments China has been making around the world. The most visible aspect of Beijing’s ambition to extend its economic and political influence around the world is the Belt and Road initiative, a massive infrastructure plan that aims to connect China to its Asian neighbors and farther afield. Think of it as a hub-and-spoke model: China, the hub, builds infrastructure in countries around the world, the spokes, in order to facilitate trade. China is building roads, bridges, seaports, and airports in more than 60 countries to facilitate the import of raw material in order to further fuel its own economic growth while it searches for new markets. Unlike the West, China offers cheap loans, doesn’t ask questions about human rights or the environment, and doesn’t export its political ideology.
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