The U.S. government is planning massive investments across the Indo-Pacific region in order to counter China’s OBOR (One Belt, One Road) program and ensure that the countries in the area do not end up being puppets of Beijing. The investments will be made in the fields of infrastructure, energy, digital economy, and security.
Investing in development
The United States wants the Indo-Pacific region to remain a free trade region. Given that China is an authoritarian regime with a closed market mentality, allowing the Chinese to exert influence and control over the area might eventually lock the U.S. out from freely trading in the region. The only way for the United States to avoid such a scenario is to become an investor themselves and help the Indo-Pacific countries avoid Chinese debt traps.
“Like so many of our Asian allies and friends, our country fought for its own independence from an empire that expected deference. We thus have never and will never seek domination in the Indo-Pacific, and we will oppose any country that does. These funds represent just a down payment on a new era in U.S. economic commitment to peace and prosperity in the Indo-Pacific region,” U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is quoted by The Epoch Times.
The U.S. initiated development projects will see the participation of India, Japan, and Australia, three nations that are also keen to limit Chinese influence in the region. And though there are concerns that Australia might see a backlash from China for announcing their support for the projects, trade minister Steven Ciobo believes that helping the underdeveloped countries in the area is the only way to uplift the region.
The United States will also be making several security investments in the Indo-Pacific to counter China’s increasing zeal of militarizing the South China Sea. The strong presence of the U.S. military should discourage China from embarking on unnecessary adventures to neighboring territories.
“As part of our commitment to advancing regional security in the Indo-Pacific, the U.S. is excited to announce US$300 million of new funding to reinforce security cooperation throughout the entire region. This new security assistance will advance our priorities, especially strengthening maritime security, developing humanitarian assistance, and peacekeeping capabilities,” Business Standard quotes Pompeo from a press conference.
The large amounts of money being poured in by the U.S.-led coalition have made many experts believe that China may eventually be forced to make its OBOR project more open and transparent. Not doing so might make the Indo-Pacific countries scale down their trade with China and replace them with other regions in a bid to avoid Chinese control.
“China needs to rethink the approach of the ‘Belt and Road Initiative.’ There is too much focus on political considerations rather than economic considerations and it is unsustainable. Whether the Indo-Pacific succeeds in curtailing China depends on us. Beijing needs to do its homework and do more to manage relations with countries in the Indo-Pacific region,” says Jia Qingguo, an international relations professor with Peking University in an interview with South China Morning Post.
The success of China’s OBOR project is therefore dependent on Beijing gaining the confidence of the U.S. and the countries that are backing the projects. And this can be quite a tough task for them since trust is not something anyone associates with the Chinese government right now.