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No-win scenario for US as China's Belt and Road push forges ahead

Professor Hugh White was correct in his assessment that countries abstaining from or minimising their involvement in China's "One Belt, One Road" (Obor) initiative have done little to stymie the programme's momentum (China's One Belt, One Road to challenge US-led order; April 25).

China's growing political clout and unquestionable industrial might are more than sufficient to unilaterally secure and execute various infrastructure projects abroad, however ambitious in scope and scale these may be.

The countries that stand to gain the most - developing nations in the target regions with untapped economic potential - have little reason to refuse China's advances.

Chinese-funded railways, shipping ports and roads are likely to catalyse domestic growth and uplift the currently disadvantaged. There are also undeniable advantages to having a wealthy power as benefactor and ally in the international arena.

Countries on the fence, including Japan and those in Western Europe, must soon decide between a bullish Beijing with a clear vision of the future and a progressively weaker Washington that has lost credibility and foreign policy direction. In this sense, the choice is quite clear.

Obor presents a seemingly no-win scenario for the United States. Open opposition and attempts to undermine an ostensibly beneficial programme would do no favours for the country's already-deteriorating public image.

Moreover, in the age of insular politics, there is a clear lack of American commitment to develop "an equally powerful and ambitious global economic vision", as Prof White has suggested.

Buying into Obor would strengthen the programme, but also comes across as a concession of global leadership. As America's leaders pause to decide their next course of action, they should recognise that the Chinese Obor campaign will keep pushing forward, with or without them.

Paul Chan Poh Hoi

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on May 07, 2017, with the headline 'No-win scenario for US as China's Belt and Road push forges ahead'. Print Edition | Subscribe