Expert: China Using Belt and Road to Build ‘Imperialism 3.0’

Chinese President Xi Jinping meets with South Korea's national security director Chung Eui
Etienne Oliveau/Photo via AP

Chinese Communist Party leader Xi Jinping is devising a new form of “imperialism” that allows Beijing to quickly exploit economic opportunities outside of China, an expert from the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) told House lawmakers this week.

In written testimony prepared for a hearing Thursday by a House foreign affairs subcommittee, Jon B. Alterman from CSIS explained:

One might argue that China is devising a new mode of imperialism, whereby Imperialism 1.0 was European imperialism, and Imperialism 2.0 was the U.S.-led rules-based international order. Imperialism 3.0 (or perhaps, Mercantilism 2.0), is a set of wholly interest-based, government-to-government ties that allow the rapid exploitation of economic opportunities on what is, at least initially, a consensual basis.

Chinese state-owned enterprises, Chinese construction firms, and Chinese technology flow in, creating an engagement that may turn into dependency. China certainly represents a challenge for Western governments that seek to use “whole of government” solutions to fight corruption, pursue technical excellence, and encourage environmental stewardship.

China advertises that it provides a shortcut to resources. Of course, China is not relying on economics alone to advance its interests. China also deploys traditional statecraft to advance its interests and confound its adversaries.

U.S. officials have accused China of using its Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) as a vehicle for “debt traps” used to undermine the sovereignty of the often financially vulnerable borrowing countries, particularly in Africa.

Formerly known as the One Belt, One Road (OBOR) project, the BRI seeks to revive the ancient Silk Road by linking Beijing to Europe and the Western Hemisphere through a massive network of land and sea routes.

Confirming assertions by the U.S. that China is engaging in “predatory” lending practices through BRI, some of the project’s African signatories like Uganda recently expressed concerns about Beijing seizing their assets over their mounting unpaid debts fueled by the initiative.

In the name of BRI, China has awarded loans to the project’s signatories collateralized with natural resources and strategic assets.

Echoing Alterman, author Gordon Chang, in testifying before the same House panel in March 2018, described BRI as a form of “colonialism.”

U.S. military and intelligence officials have described BRI as a threat to the United States, noting that Beijing may use the project as a smokescreen to expand militarily, promote communism, and erode the U.S.-led rules-based international order.


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