Summary of “What the World’s Emptiest International Airport Says About China’s Influence”

As the United States beats a haphazard retreat from the world – nixing trade agreements, eschewing diplomacy, antagonizing allies – China marches on with its unabashedly ambitious global-expansion program known as One Belt, One Road. The branding is awkward: “Belt” refers to the land-bound trading route through Central Asia and Europe, while “Road,” confusingly, stands for the maritime route stretching from Southeast Asia across the Indian Ocean to the Middle East, Africa and Europe.
Still, the intentions are clear: With a lending and acquisitions blitz extending to 68 countries, OBOR seeks to create the ports, roads and rail and telecommunications links for a modern-day Silk Road – with all paths leading to China.
What happens when, as is often the case, infrastructure projects are driven more by geopolitical ambition or the need to give China’s state-owned companies something to do? Well, Sri Lanka has an empty airport for sale.
“The projects China proposes are so big and appealing and revolutionary that many small countries can’t resist,” says Brahma Chellaney, a professor of strategic studies at New Delhi’s Center for Policy Research.
Unlike Western countries and institutions that try to influence how developing countries govern themselves, China says it espouses the principle of noninterference.
Now, as the country has become a global power once again, Communist Party leaders have revived the legend of Zheng He to show China’s peaceful intentions and its historical connections to the region.
Pushing countries deeper into debt, even inadvertently, may give China leverage in the short run, but it risks losing the good will essential to OBOR’s long-term success.
“China will have to become further entwined in local politics. And what happens if the country decides to deny a permit or throw them out. Do they retreat? Do they protect?” China promotes itself as a new, gentler kind of power, but it’s worth remembering that dredging deepwater ports and laying down railroad ties to secure new trade routes – and then having to defend them from angry locals – was precisely how Britain started down the slippery slope to empire.

The orginal article.