Competing to Win: A Coalition Approach to Countering the BRI

Now six years into the implementation of Chinese Communist Party General Secretary Xi Jinping’s signature program, the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) has gone global, and with it, Beijing’s access and influence. Initially branded as a “win-win” program intended to enhance the social and economic interconnectedness between China, Europe, Africa, and Eurasia, there are many indications that now paint BRI as a geopolitical instrument that not only threatens the interests of the United States and its allies but also threatens the global international order upon which peace and prosperity has flourished for decades.  What has enabled BRI to expand so rapidly is a combination of Beijing’s total commitment to ensure BRI succeeds and the complete absence of other alternative programs that can come close to matching the scope and scale of the BRI. 
Only in the past two years have the United States and its allies and partners come to the realization that an alternative to the BRI is a strategic necessity. To counter the geopolitical gains that Beijing is reaping through the BRI, a program that can compete with BRI is required. As a result, the United States and several of its closest allies and partners have reinvigorated their national development programs in an effort to provide such an alternative. Some of these same nations have also formed bilateral and trilateral arrangements in an effort to consolidate resources and focus energy to better compete with the BRI. However, despite these constructive intentions, a much larger and more formal structure is needed to compete with the BRI on the global stage if the United States and its allies desire to ebb Beijing’s expanding access and influence. 
The U.S. government should take the lead to develop and implement a formal integrated multilateral infrastructure development mechanism that can effectively compete with the BRI to counter China’s geopolitical gains. Toward this end, an Infrastructure Development Coalition (IDC) should be formed by combining the national infrastructure development programs and initiatives from the United States, Japan, Australia, New Zealand, India, France, and Germany.  Only by combining the resources and expertise of these programs can the United States and its allies and partners effectively compete with the BRI. More importantly, what will allow the United States and its allies and partners to counter the BRI’s geopolitical gains is how the organization, structure, and strategic focus of the IDC synergizes the capabilities of each nation’s development program.

This report is made possible by general support to CSIS. No direct sponsorship contributed to this report.

William C. Pacatte III

William C. Pacatte III

Former Military Fellow, International Security Program