President Xi of China launched the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) in 2013 ostensibly as a tool of logistics investment into the greater Eurasian sphere. The project is sometimes called “The New Silk Road”, in honor of the ancient 4,000 mile trade routes between China and Europe.
The BRI is a global development strategy adopted by the Chinese government involving infrastructure development and investments in 152 countries and international organizations in Asia, Europe, Africa, the Middle East, and the Americas.
It is estimated that Chinese sources of capital have allocated more than a trillion dollars (USD) to BRI at the behest of Xi. Almost all of that CapEx is earmarked for lending against logistics infrastructure buildout/renovation throughout Asia, Europe, and Africa.
For the way China views infrastructure: Everything is dual purpose. It may serve private interests, but it will always serve the state’s. The Western separation of state and industry is more fluid and complex, often resulting in competing interests. Infrastructure is referencing systems of transport, as well as food, water, and energy production.
Oil transport chokepoints exist in the northern and southern ports in Europe, the gateway to eastern Africa’s resources. Also North/south access to the Red Sea which is a stopover port for naval vessels. All of these projects have legitimate civilian uses. They also have strategic military benefits.
By mapping China’s investments into logistics, we can reveal its true intent. The narrative is that of economic development for current and future Chinese allies–pursuing a supremacy over vast reserves of resources while isolating the US.
The playbook for US power has been trade, cultural hegemony, the petrodollar, and military influence (via force projection, bases, and arms sales). China is working diligently to undermine those high-level domains by enforcing their will at ground level. Product is being shipped on roads, railways, and through ports built by Chinese labor with Chinese dollars – and in many cases, run by joint ventures that include Chinese stakeholders.
In his book ,”The New Rules of War”, Sean McFate says we are living in the age of Durable Disorder. The old Westphalian framework of nation-states (Westphalian sovereignty, or state sovereignty, is a principle in international law that each state has exclusive sovereignty over its territory. ) is falling to pieces in our digitized, decentralized world.
China has been preparing for this for many years. The US is just awakening to this reality, and is a generation behind the power curve. China directly or indirectly controls 6 of 7 global chokepoints – the Panama Canal being the exception. US influence has decayed. The only way to offset this fundamental tendency towards chaos and disorder is to input new energy into the system. It is re-cognition and using old assets in new ways.
Narrative, logistics, and infrastructure are the fundamental tools of surviving the coming age of durable disorder. Nation-states were simply how we have reconciled and organized human interests and our narratives of self, family, tribe in the past half-millennia.
However, logistics is the language and framework of movement, and from this we can quantify and extrapolate the intentions of the parties involved. All we must know is: What “it” is Where “it” is now Where “it” is going– this is how we bring clarity to chaos.
But for all of human civilization prior, it was trade, storytelling, and persistent conflict that shaped our limited view of the world. If the US and with our interdependent allies – is to manage in the coming age, these are the tools:
America holds the high ground of global cultural influence. To this, we must find new ways to combat China’s BRI and reinforce old alliances, while building new ones based on infrastructure and better ideas. Credit Trump here, he’s trying to change the narrative.
Mastery of these tools will help you thrive in any economic, cultural, and political environment. You can read the terrain, construct products and ideas that move minds and money, and influence the how and why of their movement.