The risks to democracy and the implications for international development – the organization for world peace
In 2013, China launched the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI); an intercontinental infrastructure project aimed at securing long-term economic prosperity and interconnection by connecting the economies of countries in East Asia, Africa, Eurasia and Europe. The states that are part of this international economic arrangement represent the majority of the world’s population and over 40% of global GDP. The project planned to improve economic relations between China and much of the developing world by negotiating trade agreements and providing more unlimited cross-border capital investment flows while forging diplomatic ties. The BRI was launched to meet China’s growing demand for resources due to the country’s population growth, urban migration, and the development of industry. On paper, this project seems to promote economic interconnection and therefore more peaceful relations between states. Still, there remains a relevant debate about the true intentions and goals of China behind the project, as well as the possible socio-economic repercussions the project could have, especially among developing countries.
Some would say that the multilateral project seeks to establish mutually beneficial trade and diplomatic relations between regional partners. The BRI would enable an efficient transfer of labor-intensive manufacturing jobs from China to other labor-intensive developing countries, many of which are located in Southeast Asia and Africa. Note that it is often the case that these countries also tend to have some of the worst working conditions (low wages, no workers ‘unions) and lack basic workers’ rights.
This argument endorses the view that the BRI project is the product of the inevitable effect of a free market, where the Chinese government seeks to promote transnational trade and investment and policy coordination in the region. Although some believe that the BRI is a legitimate plan to promote trade and cooperation, others will say that this project aims to advance China’s regional dominance and change power relations in the region. In their view, the project threatens to exacerbate China’s geopolitical power over underdeveloped countries. Likewise, while some may point to the peacekeeping effect of the increased economic interconnection project, others argue that China’s military expansion may exacerbate security concerns in the region and internationally.
One strategy used by China to deepen its influence and control over critical areas is to put capital-scarce countries into a debt trap under the BRI project. In fact, over the past decade or so, China has provided poorer, already indebted BIS states with large interest-free loans to finance critical infrastructure projects. Although the credit offered may disguise itself as foreign aid, realists denounce that the real intention of these loans is the strategic takeover of key areas of the BIS. The victims of this predatory strategy are Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Madagascar. Chinese loans come with a clause that essentially gives China the right to take control of an infrastructure project funded by its loans if the host country is unable to repay its loans. An example of this debt trap took place in Hambantota port in Sri Lanka, where a Chinese loan of $ 1.5 billion has been granted to the host country. Unable to repay the loan, Sri Lanka had to cede control of the port to China under a 99-year lease. China’s plan to fund such infrastructure projects is also part of China’s ‘Marshall Plan’, where money is loaned to poorer BIS countries to boost their economies, creating a new source. demand for Chinese products.
It is important to note that a large part of China’s loans are given without preconditions or restrictions, which means that loans can be given to countries with poor democracy and human rights (Myanmar, Kazakhstan, Thailand). Therefore, the credit offered under the BIS is unlikely to bring democratic or institutional progress within these states, which is why it has attracted the interest of many authoritarian regimes seeking to win their time in power. . China’s agreements with leaders of underdeveloped countries have often been egocentric and do not help resolve human or civil rights issues within those states, as they have the same issues at the national level and therefore cannot not really lead by example. This means that China does not really seek to improve the situation of citizens of underdeveloped countries, but rather seeks to maximize its own economic benefit.
In addition, China benefits disproportionately from the Belt and Road Initiative, which means that the gains from cooperation within the BRI are not evenly distributed. This means that economic benefits could be unevenly redistributed, exacerbating financial and social inequalities within underdeveloped states. Likewise, it is questionable to what extent debtor states are doing better with Chinese credit than without it. For example, Pakistan experienced a 1% increase in GDP growth the year after receiving Chinese incentives in national infrastructure projects from the BRI. Yet the country is now even more in debt and is on the verge of asking for a bailout from the IMF, hampering the country’s development path.
Yet China has reiterated its reluctance to replace US hegemony and instead justifies its approach to global governance to develop harmonious relations in the region to represent and promote the interests of developing countries. Not only that, economic ties and alliances with a larger number of states increase China’s legitimacy as a regional power by allowing it to more easily exercise its domination over regions and territories of contested authority such as Taiwan, Hong Kong, the South China Sea or the Ladakh region (Galwan Valley, Sino-Indian border).
With this in mind, I believe that the international community should encourage the preconditions for democracy to any credit granted under the BIS. These regulations can encourage authoritarian countries to make democratic concessions in exchange for valuable investments. In addition, stricter regulations must be put in place to prevent the emergence of debt traps or any other form of predatory behavior in the context of large transnational investment flows.
In conclusion, funding for such a massive infrastructure project will allow China to strengthen its grip over many geopolitical areas of contested authority and its dominant influence over the geostrategic trade routes of the Eurasian continent. While the BRI can help poorer Asian states reduce poverty to some extent, the Chinese approach seems to completely discredit issues of environmental degradation, working conditions, civil / human rights, and human rights. economic inequality (Liu & Dunford, 2016). Countries adopting the BIS might see improvements in their economies overall, but the extent to which states can see development will depend on how resources are redistributed and reinvested in society, as well as the willingness of leaders. to address social issues. Ultimately, it would be misguided to assume that the BIS itself could solve the deeply ingrained problems these states possess.