Building Bridges

China is changing the game in a way President Donald Trump only wishes he could. The U.S. has gone almost 70 years since the last time it upgraded its infrastructure, and long gone are the days of the New Deal. China on the other hand has been spending more on economic infrastructure annually than North America and Western Europe since the turn of the century. Despite Trump’s grand plan to repair and upgrade America’s infrastructure with $1.5 trillion, the U.S. is so far behind that even all that money won’t be enough in the short term.

China has slowly become the model to follow when it comes to infrastructure, after investing heavily in infrastructure in the past couple decades and continuing to do so. Five years ago, Chinese President Xi Jinping unveiled the next step: the Belt and Road Initiative, which aims to sprinkle infrastructure, trade and fellow-feeling on more than 70 countries, from the Baltic to the Pacific.” With this new initiative, China is blowing its competition out of the water, air, and land. In doing so it is currently isolating the United States, neighboring Canada and U.S. ally Japan, who have “yet to be included in the plan, which seeks to build or upgrade a network of highways, railways, ports and pipelines.” On top of China’s “One Belt, One Road” plan aiming “to improve the flow of goods and access to Central Asia, Europe, and the Middle East,” China’s plans also address its rapid urbanization. By doing so, China has distinguished itself by both investing to consolidate its place as a global superpower and developing its infrastructure plan back at home.

The integrity of American infrastructures, on the other hand, is at a dangerous low, getting a D+ grade from an American Society of Civil Engineers report, which also says it’ll take $4.59 trillion to bring things up to a B, or adequate grade, by 2025.” This isn’t specifically Trump’s problem, as American infrastructure has been neglected for decades, but the task ahead is daunting.

Back in the 1950s, President Dwight Eisenhower signed the Federal-Aid Highway Act which authorized the construction of 41,000 miles of interstate highway in a period of great economic prosperity for the U.S. Now, the lack of adequate infrastructure is also holding the United States back when it is involved in regional and global trades. This, combined with Trump’s isolationist tendencies, are reducing the U.S. to a smaller role in global economics, stepping back from the leadership role it once occupied.

Although increasing spending would help solve some of the problems, the larger issue cannot be fixed with a blank check. China’s efficiency in building infrastructure is something the United States should study, as their current low spending only results in low quality infrastructure. Duplicating China’s success would boost economic growth, access to markets and services, and create more jobs. The United States needs to restructure the way it approaches urban development and there is no better model than China, an unfortunate reality when one considers the increasingly alienating foreign policy of the current administration.