eijing has been into big-think for a long time. In the late 1990s, when there was talk of an Asian Monetary Fund and “regional financial architecture,” China took considerable measures to stabilize other Asian currencies devastated by speculative onslaughts. It simultaneously developed formal relations with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, at bottom a creature of the Cold War. In 2001, a big step: It founded the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, bringing together the four Central Asian republics plus Russia to develop mutual interests across the board—political, economic, diplomatic, strategic, and so on. India and Pakistan—sign of the times—joined as full members two years ago. B
Look at a map and forget about the South China Sea for a moment: China has been pushing westward and southwestward in pursuit of ports and land routes, stable economies, and global markets. And by “westward,” it soon became clear, Beijing meant “Westward.”
Xi became general secretary of the Communist Party in 2012 and president of the People’s Republic a year later. Since then, it has been one big move after another: He announced the AIIB, the World Bank’s aforementioned alternative, as soon as he became president. As Obama and Jack Lew folded their arms, the world piled in. The bank is now capitalized at $250 billion, can lend two and a half times that, and has 77 members—seven inducted the day before this week’s big-tent forum. (I would have loved to be in the room when Lew got word that even the British joined, which was quickly after the bank was launched.)
This week’s summit was called the Belt and Road Forum. This initiative sits atop all just outlined. When Xi announced it—again, as soon as he assumed the presidency—it was called the Silk Road Project. It is almost certainly the largest single infrastructure program in human history, intended to build linkages connecting China and the Middle East, Europe, and Africa. Side streets, let’s call them, lead into Southeast Asia and elsewhere. It is about highways, rails, power plants, bridges and tunnels, communications grids. The projects now number nearly 1,700, and the money is breathtaking: Financing—public and private investments, joint ventures, loans, development aid—will come to trillions of dollars.