Can the U.S. Pivot Back to Asia?

How Trump Should Respond to China's Belt and Road Initiative

Chinese President Xi Jinping delivers his speech during the welcoming banquet for the Belt and Road Forum at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, China, May 14, 2017. Damir Sagolj / Reuters

China’s sweeping Belt and Road Initiative, which involves reviving the ancient Silk Road linking Asia to Europe, has become the most visible symbol of China’s rising ambitions. Ever since the administration of U.S. President Donald Trump pulled the plug on the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) earlier this year, abandoning its chance to set the rules of international commerce, China has seized the opportunity to prove it can assume the mantle of global economic leadership.

In his opening remarks at the first Belt and Road Forum last week, Chinese President Xi Jinping called upon the attendees to “build an open platform of cooperation and uphold and grow an open world economy,” echoing the speech he gave at Davos in January, just days after Trump withdrew the United States from the TPP. Over the course of the two-day meeting in Beijing, 29 heads of state, 1,200 delegates from over 100 governments, and global leaders such as UN Secretary-General António Guterres and World Bank President Jim Yong Kim discussed what Xi called the “project of the century.” The Trump administration also sent a delegation to the forum, led by Matthew Pottinger, the National Security Council’s senior director for Asian affairs.

Belt and Road is an enormous endeavor. China is expected to pour $1 trillion in largely public financing into a variety of projects spanning 65 countries. Once complete, the “belt” will include a massive network of highways and railways linking China to Central Asia, Europe, and the Middle East. The “road” will consist of a series of maritime routes between Southeast Asia and Europe. Sixty-eight nations and international organizations have already signed cooperation agreements with China. And 18 countries, including the United Kingdom, have agreed on principles for financing Belt and Road projects.

The initiative has high-level support in Beijing. Championed by Xi, it is reportedly being coordinated by a task force chaired by one of the seven members of China’s Politburo Standing Committee—the top decision-making body in China. As part of a public

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