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Column: Make America’s infrastructure great again

For the Valley News
Published: 8/17/2019 10:30:11 PM
Modified: 8/17/2019 10:30:09 PM

Fixing the nation’s infrastructure was a key Trump campaign pledge that he has not been able to meet because of its trillion-dollar cost. With China’s help, he could get the project started in a few months.

If this idea sounds far-fetched, just take a look at Boston. In 2014, the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority selected China’s CRRC Corp., the world’s largest rail manufacturer, to replace all 400 of Boston’s commuter rail cars. As The Boston Globe reported, the cars will be assembled in a new factory, already built by China, in Springfield, Mass., under the $843 million contract. The project will ultimately create 300 new jobs and jump-start a rail car manufacturing business in the state. In fact, within three years of the contract signing, more than 100 people were already employed at the Springfield factory, and Massachusetts had signed contracts to supply CRRC rail cars to Philadelphia and Los Angeles.

That America’s infrastructure is in dire straits is no secret. Using American Society of Civil Engineers data, The Wall Street Journal recently reported that more than 9 percent of the nation’s bridges require significant maintenance, rehabilitation or replacement, at an estimated cost of $123 billion. America’s highways need $713 billion to fix a backlog of upgrades and repairs.

After leaving New York’s aging John F. Kennedy International Airport, Rachel, heroine of the recent hit movie Crazy Rich Asians, arrives in Singapore’s gleaming new Changi Airport and bursts out in wonder at its butterfly garden and movie theater. “JFK is just salmonella and despair,” she exclaims — a sentiment with which many JFK passengers will heartily agree.

The American Society of Civil Engineers estimates that it will cost $4.5 billion a year over 10 years to repair and upgrade America’s infrastructure — a sizeable investment that America has so far been unwilling or unable to put together. Yet not changing the nation’s infrastructure in not an option because, in ASCE’s words, “Infrastructure’s condition has a cascading impact on our nation’s economy, impacting business productivity, gross domestic product (GDP), personal income, and international competitiveness.”

The “Belt and Road Initiative” is China’s trillion-dollar infrastructure effort that is transforming the roads, bridges, tunnels, ports and internet connectivity in 70 Central Asian, European and African countries. So, as part of his ongoing trade negotiations with China, President Donald Trump should find a way to harness China’s infrastructure expertise and let China’s taxpayers subsidize the creation of America’s next generation infrastructure.

What makes my suggestion timely and practical is that U.S. private-equity firms are champing at the bit to invest in U.S. infrastructure, with several having raised $68.2 billion in just the first three quarters of this year, according to the Journal.

So, in his next meeting with China’s President Xi Jinping, Trump should propose that America would welcome China’s help in rebuilding America’s infrastructure, under conditions that safeguard America’s security interests. I am sure Xi would welcome this opportunity to partner with America, given that the Belt and Road Initiative is now part of China’s constitution and the Chinese president’s marquee initiative. Congress is already in favor of a major infrastructure project, so Trump will go into this deal with bipartisan support.

If the U.S. were to boldly take this leap, both presidents Trump and Xi could claim victory in a sure-fire win-win deal that could also help thaw their rapidly escalating trade war. But the biggest winners would be the American people and the U.S. economy, and an intractable but critically important problem that has bedeviled the country for years —how to find the money, technology and resources to repair and upgrade American infrastructure — would be resolved.

Sarwar Kashmeri, of West Lebanon, is a fellow of the Foreign Policy Association and adjunct professor of political science at Norwich University. This op-ed is excerpted from his latest book, China’s Grand Strategy: Weaving a New Silk Road to Global Primacy.

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