The sun never sets on China’s trade and infrastructure ambitions.
With the addition of the Arctic and Latin America last week, Chinese President Xi Jinping’s signature Belt and Road Initiative has become truly global. Only the U.S., its neighbor Canada and ally Japan have yet to be included in the plan, which seeks to build or upgrade a network of highways, railways, ports and pipelines.
China added the two regions — about 33.7 million total square kilometers (13 million square miles) — in the span of five days. First, Xi urged the creation of a “Trans-Pacific Maritime Silk Road” in a Jan. 22 message to a gathering of leaders from Latin American and Caribbean countries. On Friday, China also announced a “Polar Silk Road” while unveiling its first white paper detailing an Arctic policy.
While it’s unclear how much support the initiative might find in the new geographic regions, the expansion is the latest illustration of Xi’s desire to play a greater global role as the U.S. turns more inward-looking under Donald Trump. As the U.S. president drafts a $1 trillion plan to overhaul America’s aging roads and bridges, Xi’s infrastructure-building endeavor is pushing into the U.S.’s backyard.
Xi, seeking to avoid direct competition with Washington, has invited the U.S. to join the Belt and Road Initiative. Trump has not yet accepted the offer. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has expressed an interest in participating.
Even before this latest expansion, questions have swirled over the risk and necessity of Chinese investments linked with the Belt and Road Initiative. Still, the project — which China’s ruling Communist Party wrote into its constitution — has only grown more ambitious since Xi first proposed restoring ancient Eurasian trade routes in 2013.
Here’s how the initiative came to cover most of the globe:
- September 2013: Xi proposes land-based “Silk Road Economic Belt” in Astana, Kazakhstan.
- October 2013: Xi adds a “21st Century Maritime Silk Road” in Jakarta.
- March 2015: Belt-and-Road action plan specifies the inclusion of South Asia, the Indian Ocean, the South Pacific and the Mediterranean Sea.
- June 2017: China’s “Vision for Maritime Cooperation under the Belt and Road Initiative” highlights three “blue economic corridors” spanning Europe, Africa, Asia and Oceania.
- Jan. 22: Xi proposes “Trans-Pacific Maritime Silk Road” with Latin America and Caribbean countries.
- Jan. 26: Arctic white paper unveils “Polar Silk Road.”
(Hannah Dormido contributed to this report.)
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