Democrats and Republicans may agree on the threats associated with the rise of China. But Washington is abysmal at helping America's allies navigate this new great power competition. Washington has consistently failed to compete for the infrastructure bids it seeks to block China from winning. To add insult to injury, when China expectedly wins its bids, America comes down on its allies like a ton of bricks.
One prime example is the Port of Piraeus in Greece. In 2016, Chinese firm Cosco took a two-thirds stake in Greece's largest port, which Chinese leader Xi Jinping described as "an important hub for China's fast land-sea link with Europe and for connectivity between Asia and Europe." In other words, Piraeus became an important asset for Beijing's Belt and Road Initiative. Washington predictably registered its disapproval. But it turned out no U.S. firm even competed. What did we expect?
A similar story was reported out of Israel, where in 2015 the Shanghai International Port Group won a tender to operate the Haifa Port for 25 years. Critics in Washington howled about how the port was too close to the base where U.S. warships from the 6th Fleet dock. Israel addressed this problem directly with Washington, and the Navy still docks in Haifa. But once again, the U.S. failed to compete.
After taking significant heat from the Haifa Port episode, Israel admirably rejected a bid by the state-owned China Railway Rolling Stock Corporation to build the green and purple lines of Tel Aviv's light rail system. It was hailed as a victory for American policy. But in a bizarre twist of fate, it turns out that CRRC has been operating light rail systems in major U.S. cities, such as Boston.
Israel has recently gone a step further by toughening its screeningof foreign investments. America needs to encourage such steps from others.
More importantly, Washington needs to stop wagging a finger at our allies and get in the game. That means competing for the projects we want China to lose. That could include teaming up with allies to share the burden. But we must lead by example, which includes purging problematic Chinese companies from infrastructure in the U.S. if we want our allies to do the same.
— Jonathan Schanzer is senior vice president for research at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.