China’s ‘Belt and Road’ ambitions have escalated the conflict to gain control of global trade routes in ways that will have consequences for all. Image Credit: Bloomberg

China’s ‘Belt and Road’ ambitions have escalated the conflict to gain control of global trade routes in ways that will have consequences for all. A few years after the work began on China’s transnational project, aspects of this simmering conflict have taken shape. The ferocity has become apparent after investments by large funds and the joining of dozens of countries in the Chinese project.

While other countries and blocs are not standing by and letting the Chinese dragon has its way, what we see is the China firming up its influence to take control. This has created sharp differences even between allies, as in the case of the US and France over a submarine deal the US struck with Australia.

The US sees that the Belt and Road initiative is turning into the cornerstone of Beijing’s foreign policy strategy. The initiative guarantees China an abundance of raw materials, access to preferential trade routes and ample political influence. In Pakistan alone, China is investing $60 billion into the project, compelling the Biden administration to compete head on with China.

Britain has decided to join the Comprehensive and Progressive Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreement, which it considers an important part of its trade plans. The UK also plans to expand the Royal British Navy sphere of influence in the Arctic, to contain strategic rivals Russia and China.

Control of the Artic

Russia is making its own pitch, entering the fray by announcing the ‘South-North’ project, which will connect the Far East to Europe via the Arctic, a project that is expected to affect the Suez Canal’s interests. Keep in mind Russia’s technological expertise in building icebreakers.

Above all, there are the subterranean conflicts between these nations, including espionage and sabotage operations.

China has invested heavily in Africa to establish a trade infrastructure to the extent that other companies from other countries could not enter the African market without a green signal from Beijing. These companies are now suffering more in Africa than anywhere else because their projects have been subjected to administrative complications and corruption.

Clearly, the powers are sharpening their knives for the next phase of the conflict. They are developing naval capabilities and encouraging other minor powers to join in.

Accelerating an arms race

This explains the talk and action surrounding warships and nuclear submarines, as well as the shifting stances of former allies. The expanded American interest in the Pacific and Indian oceans will thus continue as the next global conflict will be over trade routes.

India, which is Moscow’s traditional ally, has now entered into the ‘Quad’ alliance with the US, Japan and Australia, in a move that has upset Beijing. Strategic interests have brought together NATO member Turkey with Russia, thereby angering Washington and the European Union, a bloc which seems to be getting lost in the midst of these conflicts.

The seriousness of this conflict can be realized through the level of military and weapons preparedness being initiated for a potential future conflict, unlike any that were fought after the Second World War. This means that all countries will find themselves facing challenges in choosing between the major powers over control of trade supplies, particularly in energy supplies and raw materials. This requires these countries to be well prepared to walk on the tightrope and take a risk on not falling. The only safe option is to try and maintain balanced relationships with all major powers and preserve national interests.

-- The writer is a specialist in energy and Gulf economic affairs.