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Beijing’s Building Boom

How the West Surrendered Global Infrastructure Development to China

Construction workers on site at the new standard gauge railway line near Voi town, Kenya, March 16, 2016. Goran Tomasevic / Reuters

Scholars and pundits in the West have become increasingly alarmed that China’s planned Belt and Road Initiative (B&R) could further shift the global strategic landscape in Beijing’s favor, with infrastructure lending as its primary lever for global influence. The planned network of infrastructure project—financed by China’s bilateral lenders, the China Development Bank (CDB) and the Export-Import Bank of China (CEXIM), along with the newly formed and multilateral Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank—is historically unprecedented in scope. But the B&R is only the natural progression of a global sea change in developing economy infrastructure finance that has already been under way for more than two decades.

The truth is that the West long ago ceded leadership in this area to China, a phenomenon that was largely driven not by foreign policy but by domestic infrastructure policy. The same factors that keep large infrastructure projects from

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