Nearly a quarter century has elapsed since the idea of ‘clashes of civilization’ was ruminated upon within scholarly fraternity. Although globalization is obliterating the watertight compartments of ‘civilization’, the new dynamics of power, policy, and polarity between nations seem inescapable. Economic interests and domestic challenges are the new markers drawing fault-lines and defining allegiances and alliances. The territory-usurping imperial model of dominance has been supplanted by an endless quest for regional and global hegemony. To state the obvious, those with economic, military, and political might are leading the race.

Among the various models of power-projection in this race, the US has successfully sustained its superpower supremacy by constantly exercising ‘intervention’ at international level. The clan that clamored isolationism has been pushed aside at home and those enamored by interventionism have transformed the US into the policeman of the world. With seven-hundred-odd military bases, nearly two-hundred thousand personnel serving abroad and over one hundred million dollars spent each year on off-shore troops, the US is spawning a global empire. 

The 1947 Truman doctrine and its subsequent incarnation of exporting democracy has created much civil unrest across foreign territories with unintended residual consequences like terrorism, religious radicalism, interstate detestation and at times utter havoc. Nevertheless, this manipulative policy of interventionism, peddled through militarism, has yielded much to the US. It instated friendly regimes in once hostile nations, expanded the reach of democracy, and doubled the membership of NATO – just to name a few. The American arms exports amount to one-third of the global trade. Today the US is either the de facto ringmaster in international alliances or the most important strategic partner of any bloc.

The second most promising power that amounts to the WPI (World Power Index) of the US is China. Though the Chinese saga is not so noble as far as imperialistic ambition is concerned, the trepidation spans to the ‘near abroad’ territories and the South China Sea. China’s power-projection, in contradistinction to that of the US, seems to manifest itself through bulldozers and not tanks. Under the guise of infrastructure development, the Chinese soft-power is consistently etching new marks.

The most ambitious among all Chinese infrastructure projects is the One Belt, One Road (OBOR) project that spans across the territories of sixty-five odd sovereign states. The strategic importance of the project far outweighs its conception as a logistical framework to breathe new life into round-the-clock Chinese factories that are beleaguered by dwindling domestic demands. It will catapult China’s clout as an indisputable power on the global platform. 

Various developing countries rallied to Beijing to join the financial backbone, namely the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, regardless of Washington openly trying to dissuade them. Despite partner nations being beguiled by ‘mutual benefit’, the subservience to China’s economic, strategic, and currency hegemony is an unspoken but understood dimension of the deal.

To buttress OBOR, China is investing $46 billion in Pakistan, now an all-weather-ally, through the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). The most crucial feature of this corridor is a deep water port in Southern Pakistan that would help China bypass the Malacca Straight and disputed waters of South China Sea, where the US ships are patrolling, for its energy imports from the Middle East. 

This exuberance of lining mortar is not limited to the nigh proximity, albeit the People’s Republic of China, as the official state, or other Chinese conglomerates with state aid, are rigorously bidding and bagging projects of international geopolitical importance. In fact, according to a report by American Enterprise Institute, in the last decade major Chinese construction projects across the globe amount to $1.2 trillion.

In Latin America, the current operation of the ingress and egress ports of Panama Canal and of its new expansion is all controlled by the Panama Ports Company, a subsidiary of Chinese conglomerate Hutchinson Whampoa. Construction of an alternative to the Atlantic-Pacific Panama Canal, known as Nicaraguan Grand Canal, has started after a controversial deal between corrupt Nicaraguan President Ortega and Chinese billionaire Wang Jing. In the Mediterranean, Chinese shipping giant Cosco has already occupied 67% stake in the largest and busiest port of Mediterranean, the Port of Piraeus in Greece. 

The financial support behind these projects comes through the Chinese Development Bank which has eclipsed World Bank in terms of absolute lending. This financial support has empowered China to enter into the global business of construction, with mega projects such as ports, power-plants, dams, reactors and other forms of infrastructure. In terms of FDI, for numerous nations over 50% of the FDI comes solely from China.

One extreme example of infrastructure development compounded by financing that led to ultimate Chinese subservience is Ecuador. With an extended credit line of $11 billion and Chinese companies, both private and state-owned, developing and controlling all major infrastructure in Ecuador, China has seized almost every drop of Amazonian Oil. Juxtaposing Chinese complicity to the American interventionism of capturing Iraqi oil, this is a far more symbiotic and residue-free model of exerting hegemony.

Though the mammoth projects China executes are not absolved from controversies of environmental protection, human rights, and more, they still remain untainted of human blood. Compared to its two-hundred thousand troops serving off-shore, Chinese infrastructure projects employ millions of its youth that are starving for employment. There are less regional tensions, some corporate wrangle, and no signs of catastrophe. While dominance, or the zeal to exercise it, will never be sinless, it is all about minimal harm.

Eventually, China also dreams of hegemony; but by bulldozers and not bullets, money and not military, and ultimately, infrastructure and not intervention!

Chirayu Thakkar is a researcher in Religious Studies and South Asia. He is currently affiliated with the University of Chester, UK and has written for various international outlets on the dynamics of South Asia.