China’s Belt and Road Initiative—a topic of committee focus in both the House and Senate—will likely remain a concern for Congress in the coming months. As China continues to build relationships with the developing world through the Belt and Road Initiative, U.S. policymakers will be challenged with determining whether and how to encourage China to act as a cooperative partner.
New research from RAND analyzes China’s political and diplomatic, economic, and military engagement with the developing world, region by region. The authors show that China has oriented its security concerns and its overall engagement in concentric circles of importance, with near neighbors receiving the most attention. Additionally, China has identified pivotal partners that have been selected for developing strategic relationships.
While the United States and China have a contentious relationship in the South China Sea, outside of Southeast Asia, Washington and Beijing appear to be “partners in parallel.” In other words, the two states work separately without collaborating but pursue similar ends.
Despite competition between China and the United States around the globe and in specific regions, cooperation between the two is possible. The United States should seek to cooperate with China where interests coincide, but must recognize that any cooperation will almost certainly be limited. Washington should appreciate that the degree of cooperation with China will likely vary by region, with cooperation in regions closest to China, such as Southeast Asia, being more difficult. Cooperation in regions that are further away poses less of a challenge.
For questions or to discuss this work, please contact Kurt Card.