China is engaging in a nearly trillion dollar play for the future of Afro-Eurasia—called the Belt and Road Initiative—and has so far caught the United States flat-footed. Unless the United States works with key allies and partners to craft a forward-leaning response, it risks replicating the strategic failure that occurred in the South China Sea. The result could be a China-centric economic and security order extending across Eurasia and along the Indian Ocean rim.
Observing Beijing’s approach to the South China Sea in late 2013, American leaders experienced a failure of imagination. They did not anticipate the ambitious scope of China’s land reclamation. At over 3,200 acres, China has reclaimed an area equivalent to more than 20 percent of the island of Manhattan. Additionally, American leaders did not envision the cascading military and diplomatic consequences of a slow-moving U.S. response, which gave China the opportunity to project power more than five hundred miles from its mainland and undermine U.S. credibility by demonstrating to the region that China could unilaterally change the facts on the ground without paying a significant price.
Read the full op-ed in The National Interest.