I have long been interested in the implications that China’s rise has for U.S. interests, and the BRI is a significant endeavor that promises to impact the geopolitical landscape in Asia and beyond. Intended to connect China with Europe, Africa, and the rest of Asia through development financing, BRI has significant economic, strategic, and security implications for the United States and U.S. allies. Although the initiative provides much needed investment dollars to some of the world’s fastest growing regions, BRI also aims to enhance China’s global economic and political power and to bolster domestic legitimacy and support of the Chinese Communist Party. Chinese-led initiatives such as BRI and the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank give China a larger role in global development finance while diminishing U.S. ability to shape the norms and standards in these sectors.
Japan is one of the two largest shareholders of the ADB, tying with the United States at 15.6 percent. At a time when Washington is increasingly inward looking, Tokyo suddenly finds itself playing a crucial role in responding to Beijing’s plans to extend its economic and political influence. As such, I wanted to better understand the views of Japan—a close U.S. ally and a permanent neighbor to China—on the matter and the extent to which these views overlap and diverge from U.S. ones. Most of the experts with whom I spoke shared similar concerns as those frequently heard in the United States. At the same time, I found that the Japanese private sector was (slightly) more optimistic about the opportunities that BRI poses than I had originally expected.
The experience reaffirmed the importance of incorporating non-U.S. centric perspectives into my research and studies. Working and studying in Washington, DC, I often consider policies through an American perspective when, in reality, issues such as BRI have a significant economic and strategic impact for Asia and beyond. Taking the time to understand the actual concerns and views of those in the region through in-person conversations is critical for crafting policies that U.S. allies and partners can support.