The US is using soft power to compete with China's ambitious global infrastructure initiative.
The US government unveiled the Blue Dot Network, an infrastructure-development initiative led by a group consisting of its own Overseas Private Investment Corporation, Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and the Japan Bank for International Cooperation.
At first glance, Blue Dot appears to embody a strategy of countering China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), an ambitious scheme aiming to make anew the ancient Silk Road linking China to the West. BRI consists mainly of infrastructure projects, including roads, railways, ports and power plants. OPIC’s David Bohigian announced Blue Dot at the Indo-Pacific Business Forum in Thailand during the annual APEC summit.
“The development of critical infrastructure—when it is led by the private sector and supported on terms that are transparent, sustainable, and socially and environmentally responsible—is foundational to widespread economic empowerment,” Bohigian said at the project’s unveiling.
Blue Dot’s launch coincides with some rising discomfort about the BRI’s risks and costs, from fear of “debt diplomacy,” whereby China grants soft loans (secured in many cases against the land involved in construction), to concerns about environmental sustainability and workers rights within BRI projects.
Blue Dot—which hopes to attract private finance rather than do any lending itself—is looking to certify projects with the aim of promoting “market-driven, transparent and financially sustainable” infrastructure projects. A steering committee will be formed by the principal partners. Other countries, private companies and civic groups will be invited to participate in helping develop the initiative’s governing structure and processes.
Blue Dot’s goals adhere to principles of project excellence agreed to at G-20 meetings. “[Blue Dot will be built on] respect for transparency and accountability, sovereignty of property and resources, local labor and human rights, rule of law, the environment, and sound governance practices in procurement and financing,” says Keith Krach, undersecretary at the US Department of Economic Growth, Energy and the Environment.