Washington’s hope: will rabid penguins eat the BRI?

May 27, 2024
King Penguin - (APTENODYTES PATAGONICUS) colony in Salisbury Plain a vast plain washed out by the Grace Glacier on South Georgia and South Georgia's largest elephant seal nursery.

China keeps building infrastructure in other countries that is needed by those other countries. Surely this is sinister. But all is not lost. As Joe Biden wonders if cannibals may have eaten his uncle Ambrose during World War II, Washington discovers remarkable new instruments in its geopolitical tool kit.

American local and geopolitical behaviour today prompts a widening span of reactions. Mostly, those who look on with open eyes from the Rest of the World (and many from within the Global West) worry about what new aberrant conduct might yet tip us all into World War III as the US martially asserts – for the good of all the world, naturally – its God-given hegemony.

It is hard, though, to ignore the circus-elements that are increasingly mixed in with all the bombs-away malevolence.

The Economist recently argued that: “The leading candidates for the presidential election in November are maladroit, elderly men prone to gaffes. But many of comedy’s most recognisable names are not taking advantage of the material, at least on TV”.

Apart from the two leading presidential candidates, you have to wonder, too, if a new White House Task Force that embodies elemental thinking from Gilbert and Sullivan, the Marx Brothers and Monty Python is now helping to shape both policy and press releases.

Interestingly, over a decade ago, in 2012, the Economist took a dim view of the then vigorously growing, American fixation on the China Threat arguing that:

“It is a truth universally acknowledged that a man in possession of a major American political party’s presidential nomination must be in want of a more assertive policy on China”.

Let it be known that the Economist has, since then, moved well away from bashing America about China bashing. One reason is that 2012 predates, by a year, the launch of China’s remarkable, global-infrastructure, Belt and Road Initiative, by President Xi Jinping, who assumed office in 2013.

Leading components within US Administrations have since worked assiduously (with customary Western media back-up) to try and blacken the reputation of the BRI. Due to its unprecedented scope, there have been some setbacks along the way. Sadly, however, far too few judged from Washington.

According to the German online data-gathering platform, Statista.

  • 149 countries have joined the BRI (the United Nations has 193 Member States, incidentally).
  • The investment in BRI projects across these countries since 2013 now totals around US$1 trillion.
  • China’s trade with major BRI countries had grown to almost 30% of all Chinese trade in 2020, doubling in the period since 2015.

Globally, thousands of miles of new roads, plus new railways, bridges, hospitals and schools, for example, have been built under the BRI, especially across the Global South.

This is awkward – not least for President Joe Biden. Thus, in 2021, he launched the Biden-G7, Build Back Better World (B3W) initiative, which was meant to compete with the BRI. It was heavily marketed, globally, at the time but it is, just a few years later, now largely forgotten. The B3W has thus far proved to be: “All in the window – nothing in the shop”.

Still, China keeps building infrastructure in other countries needed by those other countries – surely this is sinister. Alas, definitely not, according to an article in the leading American journal Foreign Policy published in January this year. Parag Khanna concluded in that article that:

“The BRI wasn’t a sinister plot. It was a blueprint for what every nation needs in an age of uncertainty and disruption”.

But all is not lost. Washington has many remarkable instruments in its geopolitical tool kit. And it is especially adept at getting others to advance American interests.

Joe Biden not long ago wondered (notwithstanding the historical record) if cannibals may have eaten his uncle Ambrose during World War II. Thinking laterally, Washington-style, why not motivate cannibals to eat the BRI?

Unsurprisingly, others have also noticed the ludicrous side of contemporary US behaviour and responses thereto. Chas Freeman recently argued that:

New Zealand faces a bigger threat from rabid penguins than it does from China, so I don’t understand what’s in it for Wellington to sign onto Washington’s anti-China hysteria”.

Now there’s an idea: why not also persuade penguins to join this splendid project to make a meal of the BRI.

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