In the run-up to the Third Belt and Road Forum, which took place in Beijing on 17-18 October, the Beijing Daily subsidiary Capital News carried out an interview with Friends of Socialist China co-editor Carlos Martinez, addressing various questions related to the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), particularly the reasons for the BRI’s success and the absurd nature of the West’s assorted accusations against it – that it constitutes a “debt trap”, or that it is part of a Chinese hegemonic project.
What follows is a short video clip from the interview, along with a full transcript.
Capital News: According to information from the China Belt and Road Network, as of June 2023, China has signed more than 200 cooperation documents on the Belt and Road Initiative with 152 countries and 32 international organizations. In other words, more than two-thirds of the countries in the world have reached consensus with China on the joint construction of the Belt and Road. Why are more and more countries and regions willing to join the joint construction of the Belt and Road initiative?
Carlos Martinez: The Belt and Road Initiative plays a huge role in global development, and its historical significance lies in providing countries in the Global South with the opportunity to modernize and shake off the shackles of their colonial history.
In essence, the relationship between the United States and the West and the Global South is still predatory: using the cheap labor, land and natural resources provided by the Global South, developed capitalist countries can realize their thirst for profits. The Belt and Road Initiative stands in sharp contrast. By building an extensive infrastructure network, it has greatly improved people’s lives. By creating more jobs, it gives countries of the developing world the opportunity to escape poverty and break their dependence on the West.
Under the BRI framework, Ethiopia has Africa’s first urban light rail, and Indonesia’s Jakarta-Bandung high-speed rail has shortened the travel time from Jakarta to Bandung from three hours to around 40 minutes. What China brings to its partner countries is professional knowledge, resources and experience, as well as development and win-win situations. The joint construction of the Belt and Road is part of China’s vision of building a community with a shared future for humanity.
The Belt and Road Initiative has achieved remarkable results in Africa, Asia and the Pacific, and is now bearing fruit in Latin America and the Caribbean. Countries such as Syria, Nicaragua, Argentina, Cuba, and Zambia have recently joined the Belt and Road Initiative, and many countries in other regions are also taking the initiative to understand and connect. This positive momentum will continue.
Capital News: What challenges do you think the Belt and Road Initiative is facing internationally? What are the root causes of these challenges?
Carlos Martinez: The first challenge stems from the United States’ dissatisfaction with the Belt and Road Initiative. The United States ranks first in the world in nominal gross domestic product (GDP) and has huge influence in the Western world. The US strategy is based on extending its dominant position from the 20th century into the 21st century. This vision is often called the “Project for a New American Century”.
Under this strategy, although many of the United States’ allies’ participation in the joint construction of the Belt and Road would bring substantial benefits to the country, the United States still tries to use its influence to dissuade its allies. This is true for India, the Philippines, and Europe.
Europe could and should be an important player in the Belt and Road Initiative. On the one hand, it will provide connectivity to Asian and African countries with their economies, markets and populations; and on the other hand, Europe has rich experience in advanced engineering. If a bridge can be built, Europe can benefit from connections with emerging markets in Asia and Africa.
However, Europe has often been forced to keep China at arm’s length due to its longstanding ideological and economic alliance with the United States. This pressure is likely to continue in the next few years. The key question is whether these US allies can maintain their strategic autonomy and integrate themselves into the joint construction of the Belt and Road, the most important global development initiative in history.
In addition, the Belt and Road Initiative also faces the challenge of Western strategic instability in relation to China, and many countries affected by this strategic fluctuation are located on the east-west land routes of the Belt and Road Initiative.
Capital News: In recent years, Western countries led by the United States have been hyping up “China’s economic coercion.” They have exaggerated the risks of investing in China and claimed that many companies have encountered coercion in China. They also tried their best to discredit the Belt and Road Initiative, claiming that it was China’s means of “economic coercion” against other countries, in an attempt to undermine China’s international cooperation and draw more countries into their “anti-China encirclement.” What do you think of this so-called “economic coercion” argument?
Carlos Martinez: This is an incredible irony and shows the lack of self-understanding in the United States and the West. The United States is the undisputed king of economic coercion. This view is recognized by domestic analysts in the United States, including the famous economist Professor Jeffrey Sachs. Sachs pointed out that the United States is currently implementing economic coercion on a global scale: the US has unilaterally imposed unilateral sanctions on China, the DPRK, Iran, Syria, Cuba, Venezuela, Nicaragua, Eritrea, Zimbabwe and many other countries.
In addition, US and Western lending institutions impose loan conditions, which constitutes another form of economic coercion. When a developing country or a country in financial difficulty seeks help from the International Monetary Fund or other Western lending institutions, there are usually conditions. For example, that the water supply and education system must be privatized, and the domestic market must be opened to Western multinationals.
China never adopts unilateral sanctions or imposes loan conditional restrictions. There are neither traps nor punitive measures related to important infrastructure projects. Chinese loans are negotiated through bilateral agreements between countries or companies and are used for projects requested by the borrowing country. Recently, Senegalese President Macky Sall emphasized this point in an interview with CGTN. He said that China’s financial support to Africa is based on the needs of African countries, and specific priorities are determined by Africa itself.
Allegations that China is using coercion or creating a “debt trap” have been thoroughly debunked. It’s worth noting that none of the countries blaming China were actually recipients of these loans. Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Senegal, Zimbabwe, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Argentina, Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua and others. These countries that directly receive Chinese loans do not accuse China of creating a “debt trap”. Instead, the accusations are made by the United States, the United Kingdom, the European Union and Canada.
This is ridiculous: instead of raising concerns from those thought to be affected, it is people who are not involved who are leading a public opinion war against China. This kind of unfounded accusation is actually a kind of projection, that is, the West accuses China of the things it does itself.
Capital News: In international multilateral diplomatic occasions, the gap between Western countries led by the United States and the vast number of developing countries seems to be becoming more and more obvious. At this year’s G20 summit, China is advocating common development, other developing countries are paying attention to the implementation of the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda, and Western countries are focusing on condemning Russia. What do you think of this mentality in the United States and Western countries?
Carlos Martinez: The reaction of the West, especially the United States, to the Russia-Ukraine conflict is telling. In the past two or three decades, the United States has launched many wars and created many complex situations, but none of them have occupied as much attention in American news reports and political discourse as Ukraine.
In 1999, NATO, headed by the United States, carried out indiscriminate bombings on the sovereign country of Yugoslavia without authorization from the United Nations Security Council, causing the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia to suffer a devastating blow for 78 days. Western media, however, portrayed it as a “small-scale conflict” and a “necessary humanitarian intervention.”
In 2003, the US and its allies launched a war on Iraq. While the situation in Ukraine is undoubtedly tragic, it pales in comparison to Iraq. In Iraq, the war resulted in the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people. The country was basically bombed back to the Stone Age and has yet to fully recover. Iraq in 2023 is in a worse state of development than it was in 2003.
And yet when it comes to Ukraine, some Western politicians who were previously known as “war hawks”, such as US President Biden, who has supported almost every war the US has participated in, now present themselves as peace activists.
In the Russia-Ukraine conflict, there is an important geopolitical factor at play, that is, the US is actually carrying out a proxy war against Russia through Ukraine. The US wants to use this war to weaken Russia. Its ideal is to bring about regime change in Russia, so that Russia can be a consistent ally of the West.
Therefore, as far as the US and its allies are concerned, the situation between Russia and Ukraine is the only important thing in the world. Issues such as addressing climate change, poverty reduction, food security, eliminating inequality and nuclear proliferation have lost their meaning in the eyes of the West, even though these are urgent issues that need to be addressed in the countries of the Global South. The West has largely ignored their demands.