Washington's new $113 million in infrastructure spending for the Asia Pacific region can't compete with Beijing's massive investments there, but the move reinforces the U.S. commitment to Asian governments.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Monday announced new ventures focused on technology, energy and infrastructure as part of President Donald Trump's Indo-Pacific strategy. They include $25 million to expand U.S. technology exports, $50 million for countries to produce and store energy resources as well as a $30 million assistance network for infrastructure development. Australia and Japan have also joined forces with the U.S. to mobilize investments in the area.
A desire to counter China's rising economic and political influence in Asia, as reflected by the country's continent-spanning Belt and Road infrastructure program, is believed to be a major factor driving Washington's entire Indo-Pacific policy. And many now view the U.S. fund as an alternative to the Belt and Road Initiative.
The U.S. isn't aspiring for dominance but instead looking for partnerships, Pompeo told CNBC on Monday, adding that "others choose to behave differently." Some countries that have engaged in the Belt and Road program "find themselves in a place that they are not happy about, and I think the others are beginning to see that as well," he added, alluding to concerns about China employing debt-trap diplomacy.
The way to convince BRI member countries that America's operating style is better is by showing them how relationships with the U.S. benefit each country, he continued.
But, as it stands, the $113 million American fund pales in comparison to China's trillion-dollar Belt and Road. In Pakistan alone, the world's second-largest economy has $62 billion worth of infrastructure projects.
"This could be the first step of a future pathway to stronger, more sustainable set of alternatives to the Belt and Road Initiative" but current resources "are shallow in comparison to what China can bring to the table," said Brian Eyler, director of the Southeast Asia program at think tank Stimson Center.