America stands to lose as China places bets on developing world

America stands to lose as China places bets on developing world
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It is impossible to ignore the volume of voices crying out about the looming economic threat of China. But while many are focused on the budding trade war, we ignore a key part of the story at our own peril, which is how China’s investments in the developing world are far outpacing our own. China, for years, has dramatically expanded its competitive playing field, and it is certainly playing to win. Just travel to places like Africa or the Americas, and China’s footprint is everywhere.

China watchers point to the “One Belt One Road” initiative. But I do wonder if the average American realizes that China is on track to spend more than a trillion dollars, seven times the size of the Marshall Plan in real dollars. While China is ambitiously building new ports and markets across the globe, increasing its economic connectivity from Asia to Africa to the Americas, the United States is getting left behind.

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In 2016, China launched the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, and already it has 61 member states, including many strategic American allies. China also recently established its own development agency. In Africa alone, China has increased its foreign assistance by more than 520 percent over the past 15 years, where it had already surpassed the United States as the largest trading partner years ago. On the diplomatic front, China has doubled its diplomacy budget since 2013.

While we will never embrace the Chinese state approach to foreign assistance, it is not the only country leveraging these investments in order to advance its economic interests. Japan, France, Germany, Britain and others are actively investing in the developing world. We cannot blame any of our allies or competitors for stepping up their game in some of the fastest growing markets in the world, especially when they know the return on investment from diplomacy and development is a win.

Look at our own history on the Korean Peninsula. Following the Korean War, the United States helped to stabilize South Korea through economic investment and humanitarian aid. Today, our ally is not only a key security partner but also our seventh largest export market, buying more than $60 billion in U.S. goods and services annually. In one year alone, we sell more to South Korea than the total amount we spent decades ago on foreign assistance. This is a story repeated time and again in 11 out of top 15 export markets for America that were once recipients of U.S. assistance.

Unfortunately, we have seen dangerous proposals to slash funding for American diplomacy and global development by as much as one third. This is a threat to our humanitarian and security interests around the world. Nonetheless, Republicans and Democrats on Capitol Hill continue to reject these calls to retreat from the world, opposing cuts to American diplomacy and foreign assistance programs.

Like our military leaders, these policymakers recognize that instability around the globe, particularly in the developing world, is simply not in our interests. They understand the impact on security, creating more openings for terrorism, disease and famine. It is time we wake up to the impact that global instability also has on our economic interests.

With 95 percent of consumers in the world outside our borders, it is not at all surprising that 41 million American jobs depend on business in the global economy. When we invest in other countries, we build more markets for our goods and services. This is welcome news for the nearly half a million American companies that export overseas, the vast majority of which are small and midsize businesses.

Ultimately, if the United States does not engage and compete on the global stage, other countries like China will fill the gap and build valuable economic partnerships around the world. This risks shutting us out of critical export markets that will cost us jobs, lower wages, and at the end of the day, the prosperity of our children in the future.

I heard these concerns recently when I traveled throughout America’s heartland to places like Appleton, Wisconsin, where civic, business and veteran leaders shared their anxieties about the United States pulling back from the world. One manufacturer told me that while our competitors are playing to win, America is playing “small ball.”

America should not shy away from betting on the economic tools that advance our national interests. As we mark the 70th anniversary of the Marshall Plan, we should never forget one of the greatest global development bets of all time. It gave us a return on our investment that delivered generations of stability, influence and growing markets. When it comes to ensuring a more prosperous future for the next generation, our competitors are not debating. They are competing, and so should we. That is how we ensure America does not get left behind.

Liz Schrayer is president and CEO of the U.S. Global Leadership Coalition, an alliance of more than 500 businesses and organizations that advocates for American diplomatic and developmental efforts around the world.