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US lawmakers on Monday expressed concern over the ambitious 'One Belt, One Road' (OBOR) initiative of China and sought recommendations for improving development finance efforts.
While infrastructure investment is desperately needed across the region, there's more to the 'Belt and Road' initiative than meets the eye, said Congressman Ted Yoho, Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Asia and the Pacific.
Though China has promoted the program as generous win-win assistance to its fellow developing nations, the OBOR seems motivated primarily by self-interest, he said during a Congressional hearing on development finance in Asia.
The Belt and Road projects are financed by Chinese institution at high rates not typically found in the development context conducted by Chinese corporations that are often state-owned enterprise and utilise Chinese labour and material and seem to add little to local economies and can bring unsustainable debt burdens, he said.
The program also seems to be closely aligned with China's strategic and military interests to be more than a mere coincidence, he added.
Yoho cited an illustrative example to buttress his claim.
"China built an economically unviable port in the hometown of Sri Lanka's corporate former or corrupt former leader;
converted its interests to equity when Sri Lanka could not service the resulting debt and now owns a port along its maritime energy supply route through the Indian Ocean," he said.
Daniel Runde, the Schreyer Chair and Director of the Project on Prosperity and Development at the Center for Strategic and International Studies said China has displayed willingness to "periodically overlook human rights, environmental or social standards" in the way that approaches development.
"The OBOR is a prime example of a Chinese effort that leverages all aspects of this model described above. It's also frankly a good idea recreating the old Silk Road land roads, cutting transit times for goods, and services would be an economic boon," he said.
Runde, however, cautioned against any move to stop the Belt and Road initiative.
"We cannot stop OBOR nor should we. The United States and its allies should instead seek to influence its (OBOR's) soft infrastructure and I've submitted some documents for the record about that," he added.
Roy Kamphausen, Senior Vice President for Research at The National Bureau of Asian Research, said the Belt and Road initiative sets the general long-term direction for China and seeks to mobiliser and coordinate the use of all available national resources to pursue both internal -- in terms of economic development -- and external, both strategic and national security objectives, in an integrated way.
"From the security angle, in the near-term, the OBOE initiative has significant potential to increase China's military footprint in the Central Asia region and beyond in an effort to secure its periphery, a central goal of the Chinese leadership," Kamphausen said.
According to him, at a strategic level, the multi-billion Belt and Road initiative reflects Beijing's regional and global ambitions.
"It is an instrument to consolidate China's position at the heart of Eurasia in a space where US influence is rather limited. The initiative is intended to counter what Beijing perceives as the US unacceptable containment of China on its eastern seaboard," he said.
Jonathan N. Stivers, a Commissioner of the US-China Economic Security Review Commission and former Assistant Administrator to USAID, noted that China was expanding its presence on the world stage through "both coercion and a charm offensive", thereby creating pockets of influence, leverage and control.
"It is time for a new US economic and development strategy for the Asia-Pacific region in order to effectively compete with China's growing influence and investment," he said.
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