NEW YORK, June 4 (Reuters) - China’s soft-power program to fund foreign ports, railways and roads will surely throw up geopolitical flashpoints like the current one with the United States over strategic islands near the Chinese mainland, a U.S. author said on Monday.
Will Doig, author of “High-Speed Empire: Chinese Expansion and the Future of Southeast Asia,” said in an interview in the Reuters Global Markets Forum online chatroom that China’s multi-trillion-dollar “One Belt, One Road” (OBOR) program was so far a money loser but a tool for China’s foreign policy makers.
Here are excerpts: Question: The United States and China repeatedly face off over tiny territories with strategic importance in Asia’s waters. Do you see such flashpoints developing from the OBOR initiatives? Answer: It would be odd if it didn’t. China is establishing a sphere of influence in Asia that is both economic and strategic. That’s a natural thing for a superpower to do. China certainly wants nothing to do with a military confrontation at this point in its rise, but as its power and expansion continue to grow, some flashpoints are inevitable. ... China will do its best to keep out of any conflict in the near future. This is part of why it’s establishing these OBOR partnerships. Q: Is OBOR working well for China? A: It honestly hasn’t produced a lot of returns for China yet; in fact, it’s mostly overhead at this point. But it’s a long, long game. China is thinking in centuries with this plan, and they’ve got the cash to burn on it now with the expectation that OBOR projects will give future Chinese generations the wealth and power the Chinese enjoyed in centuries past. Q: How are the United States and the West reacting? A: A lot of powers are anxious about China’s plans, but my sense is that they’re mostly taking a wait-and-see approach for now. I don’t think America’s goal should be to counter OBOR at all. ... The Asian market is plenty big enough for investment from two major powers. The U.S.’s mistake, in my opinion, is turning away from Asia and leaving all of it to China.
Reporting by Michael Connor in New York Editing by Leslie Adler